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Amy Pritchard - Operating Theatre to Podium

Gareth Pymm, Cycling Coach with Matt Bottrill Performance Coaching

I’ve been coaching triathlete Amy Pritchard for cycling for a couple of years now and there have been a couple of blogs/reports about her achievements from last year already as she had a very successful year. Her achievements included world age group aqua bike gold and world age group sprint tri gold, plus some open time trial wins and other tri wins. However, during last season whilst Amy was smashing out all of these results there was a knee injuring rumbling away in the background that would sometimes force Amy to take time out and certainly caused her some pain whilst racing. The injury got worse after the beach starts at the aquathon and aquabike champs and towards the end of the season it got to the point where it was becoming even more serious and so further investigation was required.

Amy had seen a consultant in 2015 and agreed that to avoid surgery, a change from Olympic distance to Sprint distance would buy some time (she didn’t just race and train through the season in the hope it would all go away!). So we had a good idea of what was going on but by the start of the autumn things weren’t looking too good so Amy went to see the consultant again and had a scan.

The results came back and Amy sent me various pictures and copies of consultant notes, all of which didn’t really mean a lot to me. The following conversation went something like this –

Gareth – ‘What does it mean, can you still train?’

Amy – ‘Not really too painful, too much damage’

Gareth – ‘Can they fix it?’

Amy – ‘Yes think so, needs surgery though’

Gareth – ‘Get it done then, the sooner the better, we’ve got next season to think of!’

Amy had already expressed her hopes to defend her world titles and the sprint tri champs were back in her home country, Australia so she really wanted a special trip back to race there. The injury was a torn meniscus with bony debris and associated popliteal cyst and it required an arthroscopy. The recovery time was 6-8 weeks so the clock was certainly ticking as the first big goal was in early July, the aqua bike champs in Denmark.

Amy was feeling understandably down about it all and wasn’t sure if she would be able to come to racing after surgery. But it really came down to the fact that she was unable able to train or race anyway so I explained that if she was able to get the surgery done as soon as possible it would hopefully give us time to get a plan in place to recover and start racing again.

There followed a period of uncertainty – we were basically waiting for a date for the surgery but these things are never straight forward so we just had to wait, the whole time putting the comeback and training time on hold. After being told it would be a 7 month wait for NHS surgery, the difficult decision to be treated privately had to be made to salvage next year's season. Christmas came and went but thankfully in the new year Amy finally made it to the theatre and had the surgery. 4 weeks later she was doing some gentle pedalling again.

But the question was – would she be able to get fit by July for aqua bike?

It all depended on how recovery went but I had a plan. In 2018 Amy’s focus was firmly on the sprint tri and aqua bike was a secondary goal, albeit one we knew she could do well at with such a strong swim. But it is hard to train for long distance events and sprint events at the same time, especially with limited training hours, so the focus was on high intensity and not endurance, with a few longer rides and TTs squeezed in where possible to get the miles in the legs. Amy won aqua bike last year but only by 2 seconds. As far as I was concerned it was too close and I didn’t think Amy would get away with it again this year. With the injury and the recovery from surgery running was off for a bit and so was higher intensity cycling. The situation leant itself to training for a longer event raced at a lower intensity so the plan was to steadily build the endurance and speed so that Amy could put in a stronger performance on the bike this year.

Looking at the numbers Amy did the race last year at an intensity factor of 0.62. This was lower than we targeted and was partly due to less specific training on the run up to the event and partly due to Amy suffering from jet lag. The course was quite hilly too and this was something that Amy struggled with a little. This year the course was much flatter so it was all about holding a higher intensity factor and making sure Amy was fully prepared with the right equipment to maximise the speed on the course. The plan for this year was to build Amy up to the point where she could hold an intensity factor of 0.8 for the bike leg. I had a feeling that if she could do this she would win again.

After a couple of weeks of gently turning the legs over on the bike and making sure everything was ok after the surgery Amy got back to the plan. We started with gentle sessions but to keep them interesting and to ensure Amy had all the tools needed for a good bike split I included variations in cadence, sessions that focused on holding a good aerodynamic position and seated and standing drills. As Amy got fitter stronger I started to add some more intensity in the shorter sessions in the week whilst steadily increasing the duration at the weekend. Amy trained like a pro, her dedication was so impressive; she rarely missed a training session and trained at all hours of the day to make sure she could get it done around her other (significant) commitments.

After a few weeks, Amy reported that she was starting to feel much fitter and stronger but there were some very slight issues with pain and swelling. This was possibly due to the lower cadence work I had given her and was easily rectified by altering the strength sessions for a bit until her knee became stronger.

By mid-April, after just 5 weeks back to training, Amy was ready to try a bit of racing. Training was going well but we had to make sure she had the right position and equipment for racing so she came up to visit us at Matt Bottrill Performance Coaching for a bike fit and equipment review. After a few tweaks to the position she was fully dialled in and looking slick. Amy kicked the season off with the Wolsey RC Pat Pepper Memorial 25 mile TT. I didn’t really place any expectations on this other than to test the legs out but Amy had other ideas and not only won but got a course record and a power PB. She also took 12 riders from her club Giant Camden Team Liv to make it the largest female entry list the Wolsey RC had ever seen! Things were definitely looking good! I was so impressed.

The triathlon season commenced in May with an overall women's win in the Crystal Palace Sprint Triathlon, but disaster hit when the cyst, thought to have resolved, had come back a few hours after the race. Amy was devastated.

After a consultation with her physiotherapist, hamstring (and other running muscles) strengthening exercises were prescribed. The hamstrings had weakened post -op and running placed greater pressure on the knee. Because Amy was finding it difficult to fit these exercises into the routine, we had to have a re-think. The solution was for me to start putting rehab into the training plan so that it became another training session that had to be approached with the same commitment as the others. This meant we had to scale things back a bit on the cycle training but by getting creative with the planning we were able to keep the form building on the bike whilst consistently getting the rehab in. For example, I gave Amy shorter but slightly harder sessions in the week to enable time for rehab. It seemed to work and after a few weeks Amy was back on track and she even manged to start doing some gentle running in prep for the sprint tri champs, which was still a possible goal towards the end of the season.

There were more races planned on the lead up to aqua bike because the ITU/ETU Team GB qualifying process was changing and this year required athletes to qualify for both 2018 and 2019 events all within the space of several weeks. This was not the best timing for Amy's post-op state. We had a discussion about getting the balance right as we had to allow time for her to train enough to hit that precious intensity factor in the main event. So the run up was pretty tough with very little rest between long level three training sessions and races the weekend before or after.

Racing was mixed; Crystal Palace went well, Chester Olympic Distance GB Trials was salvaged after a quickly repaired puncture and a couple of other events were either cancelled or missed due to illness or air traffic control strikes!

Aqua Bike was on 14th July and by the time race day arrived we had left no stone unturned but I knew for the flat Danish bike course she had to have a disc wheel, something she had never used before. It went up to the wire but thankfully the day before she was due to leave for Denmark a new disc arrived from Revolver Wheels, which they had kindly leant her for the race. We had done all we could to get Amy as prepared as she could be after such a difficult winter and spring, all that was left was for her to go and give it her best in the race.

I was on holiday when Amy was racing but I was waiting anxiously for the results. I was so happy (and relieved) when I found out that she had not only won her age group but won overall as well and by nearly three minutes! She executed the ride perfectly, pacing it well and hitting over 0.8 on intensity factor. Mission accomplished!

It is so rewarding to see everything come together like this after such a massive setback and hard work from Amy. She truly deserved the result and is a real ambassador to the sport, taking time not only for her own training but also to help out the lady’s team at Liv Giant Camden, supporting and encouraging others to get into racing no matter what their goals.

Next, it’s the sprint tri champs in Australia, good luck to Amy, hope she brings home another gold!

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