Nathan Killam's Super League Triathlon Journey: Part One, THE PREP
by Nathan Killam
Ed. Note—Last fall, Nathan Killam got the opportunity of a triathlete's career: head to Jersey, England to participate in the first round of Super League Triathlon 2018-2019. The Canadian long-distance star made an impression, and picked up an invite to the rest of the series races: Malta, Mallorca, and then the championship round in Singapore. Today we start a series about Nathan's preparation for Singapore, and we'll have reports from him about the execution of the race, competing alongside the world's best short course triathletes.
Having gained a wildcard entry to the Super League Championship Series after Super League Jersey, I knew that I would be racing the rest of the series. I had to miss the Malta event, but I would be at Mallorca and Singapore. Mallorca was chilly weather, but knowing Singapore was extremely hot and humid, and that the West Coast of Canada isn't exactly a tropical paradise in February, preparing for the climate was one of the most important things to do. Knowing the formats ahead of time made a difference: unfortunately the second day of Singapore would be the Enduro format: three times through swim/bike/run (300m/4.8km/1.8km) without stopping, where the bottom two athletes after EVERY leg (of the nine legs!) are eliminated. If any athlete got 80 seconds behind the leader, they were also eliminated.
My swim being my weakest of the three, I knew I had to put a lot of time and energy into the pool. Almost all the athletes racing in the Super League Championship Series started swimming when they were still in single-digit age; many of them have even been doing triathlon since before their 10th birthday as well. The pedigree was deeper than any field I've ever raced, and having only learned to swim when I was 20, I knew the water would be my biggest disadvantage. I swam many of the biggest weeks of my life in the few months leading up to Singapore, alongside fellow Wattie Ink pro (and best buddy) Rachel McBride, putting in hard 5km (and over!) sets. Adding extra solo swims in between had me at my best swim fitness of my career to date.
The bike in Super League is really something else. The distance is so short that you basically redline your system the entire time. It is a repeated VO2 effort, with short breaks for turning and then back to sprinting and riding as hard as you can. Trying to jump on your bike after an all-out 300m swim and then ride as hard as you can is no easy task. The lactate in your body is significant, and just catching your breath seems impossible. In the months leading up to the race, I did almost all my bike workouts after a big swim workout, and my coach Björn Ossenbrink had me doing a few 'Super Brick' workouts, which is a warm up and then a bike/run/bike/run/bike/run at a hard effort, without stopping. The local pools where I live are all public pools and weren't keen on setting a bike up on deck to do a swim/bike brick, so I had to do what I could. I schedule a lot of high-output-interval bike workouts, which included a ton of Zwift racing in the months leading up to Singapore. The Zwift races are way longer than the Super League bike portion, but we incorporated a lot of attacks in the racing and very hard efforts to simulate the huge efforts required in Super League.
The run is basically a fast mile, with a bit of extra at the end (just to add to the sting). Unfortunately my IT Band Syndrome popped up again around Christmas, so I had to stop running for a few weeks to get it dealt with and then slowly build back into it. I wasn't able to really get many speed sessions in before the race, but luckily my run form had been fairly good before I stopped so it came back to an adequate level before the race. A few shorter, high-effort interval sets before leaving for Singapore helped get me tuned up for the intensity to come.
Now, for dealing with the heat. I've used a sauna protocol in the past for hot race prep, and I knew that I would have to get serious. I built a sauna in my basement with a huge element, that I could get up to 120 Celsius. A bit overkill, as I only needed it to be around 85-95 C, but sometimes I like to over engineer things. I used the sauna a LOT as part of my regular training leading up to the race, and the two weeks before leaving I used it every day, partially following a protocol designed by a friend who has done some research in sauna acclimation. I feel the sauna work really made a difference in my ability to handle the heat in Singapore.
It was a fun experiment preparing for such a short race right in the dead of the Canadian winter, and I knew I had done everything I could to prepare. All that was left was to get there and RACE!