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Meet the Ironcouple: Rafal & Alicja Medak

Meet the Ironcouple: Rafal & Alicja Medak

By Vinnie Santana, ironguides Coach – Bangkok.

The Ironman World Championships, Kona, shifted our focus to the training and racing of our qualified athletes. Among them were ironcouple Rafal and Alicja Medak. These Kona qualifiers have an inspiring story, especially when it comes to combining a successful (and demanding!) professional career as investment bankers, with high-performance training and racing.


Age: 38 (Alicja), 40 (Rafal)

Weekly work hours: 50-60

Location: London, UK

Relationship: Married – no kids

Weekly training: 14-20 hours

Coach: Vinnie Santana

Qualifying Race: Ironman UK

Rafal: 9h53 — 3rd M40-44

Alicja: 10h45 – 3rd F35-39

Training overview (Coach’s comments):

I started working with the ironcouple back in November 2010. Rafal was already familiar with The Method and our approach as he had been an ironguides athlete a while ago. He started triathlon training in 2005, while Alicja back then was only supporting and taking pictures. Alicja decided to learn to swim the front crawl and entered her first race in 2007, coming last out of the water but gaining plenty of ground after a decent bike and run to finish in the middle of the pack.

Alicja is a very talented athlete. But since she is relatively new to the sport, she had no experience in setting up a race (and training) strategy to suit her strengths and give her a better chance to achieve her goal (Ironman Hawaii slot). Our first step was to determine what course suits her best and where she should be spending most of her efforts come race day.

Rafal, on the other hand, had the experience and background, but was never able to nail the back end of his Ironman marathon, falling short of securing an Ironman Hawaii slot in his previous attempts. So that part of the race became our focus for him.

As in any new coach-and-athlete relationship, it took us a while to develop a deeper understanding on what were their strengths and weaknesses. Another worry was to keep them both relatively fresh and rested since their day jobs can be extremely demanding and stressful, with some intercontinental business trips here and there.

The first race was early in May at Ironman 70.3 St Croix. It was a disaster when it came to results, but great feedback on race strategy—we knew we wouldn’t be using that one ever again! The athletes stuck to the original goal, never doubted the coach’s strategy, and continued on their quest to the perfect race.


Then things started to fall in place at Ironman 70.3 Honu in June. We found what seemed to be a better race strategy, then tweaked it a bit before a half Ironman race on July 4 in the UK: the result was great. Right there we had found the strategy to be used at Ironman UK. The instructions were clear, “Just repeat it!”. On race day at Ironman UK, they both did a great job of executing the plan and we knew Kona slots would be only a consequence on how stacked the field would be that day.


What it Takes

The ironcouple approach comes down to a “No Excuses” mindset in their training. The two examples below are often shared with our high-performance athletes as a reality check of “This is the kind of athlete you will be racing against.”

– Rafal was on a weekend bike ride, got into a crash with a car—nothing too serious but it involved enough bruises and blood to leave anyone scared. He also had a cracked bike to boot. Rafal got home and, determined to complete his training, finished his session on his spare bike on the wind trainer.

– When the couple went to Italy for a training weekend, their Sunday long ride didn’t leave enough time to do the run they were supposed to do. They packed their gear, headed to the airport, checked their bags—and finished the brick run, running around the airport car park.

When you approach your training with the determination and willpower as Rafal and Alicja, come race day you are relaxed because your confidence couldn’t be higher. The ironcouple knew they did their best, and that their results would be only a consequence of training. Importantly, placing is something we tend not to worry about since we have no control over which other athletes choose to race as well.

For more information about the ironcouple and training via The Method, send an email to ironguides:

By Vinnie Santana

Vinnie Santana



* * * Your best is our business.™ * * *

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Ironman Busselton Course Review

Ironman Busselton is a common choice for triathletes based in Asia. In fact, it is the Ironman I usually recommend to many of our athletes doing their first one. The relatively easy access to Perth, similar time zones and mild temperature are some of the benefits of racing in Busselton.


And the course is very, very fast. Winners usually get close to the 8-hour mark, which is definitely the benchmark for a fast course. Since this race made its debut in 2004, pros have had to finish in 8:16 or faster to secure victory. The exception was 2005 when stormy conditions slowed the overall times—the top time that year was 8:27.


Swim (3.8km)


The one-lap swim takes place at the stunning Busselton Jetty. Athletes start on one side of the jetty and swim around it (which, incidentally, is fantastic for spectating friends and family). It is a wetsuit swim with a deep water start, which is something all athletes should be ready for. Swimming in a wetsuit, although it feels generally easier due to the extra flotation the suit provides, is also harder on your shoulders.


Training in a wetsuit is recommended to strengthen your specific swimming muscles, and to get used to the feel of the suit and the extra strain on the shoulders. However, athletes based in the southern Asian locations such as KL, Singapore or Bangkok, face another problem: they only have access to warm pools. The hot weather and water make training in a wetsuit not only uncomfortable, but also dangerous due to risks of dehydration and overheating.


A great way to simulate a wetsuit swim, without using the suit, is by swimming with a set of paddles and a pullbuoy. The buoy simulates the buoyancy of the wetsuit, while the paddles add the extra strain on the shoulders.


A long swim with the pull gear, broken down in short repeats, is a perfect workout to simulate race day, such as the following:

LONG SWIM – Strength + Endurance


25-35x100m, swum as:


* First 4 easy warmup

* Last 2 easy cooldown

* The rest ALL SAME SPLIT (meaning: start easy and hold the split)

* Maximum SUSTAINABLE pace

* NEVER burning lungs

* Aiming for DEAD ARMS

* Use XS or small Tyr Catalyst paddles + pull buoy (biggest you can find)

* 15sec rest after each


Don’t aim to destroy yourself aerobically in these! The goal is to swim steady—not to set best times—holding your best time that is sustainable for the entire set.


This set is about swim strength. You keep your heart rate down by using the paddles, while the pull buoy gets you positioned properly so you can focus on arm technique (which the paddles help with as well). It’s not a lung scorcher, so you are nice and recovered aerobically. Breaking the session down in shorter repeats gives you the same aerobic benefit as a straight swim but the short rest is enough to allow you to swim faster and with a better technique, teaching you good habits.

Bike (180.2km)

The three-lap pancake-flat H-shaped bike course can be fast and furious. In some years strong winds have been present.


As confusing as it sounds, the biggest challenge of this course is that it’s 100% flat. The problem lies in the fact that you get no break or resting period at all, as opposed to hilly or undulating courses on which you can coast and rest a bit when going downhill.


Busselton requires some serious bike endurance and strength, both leg and core, since you are supposed to ride on your aerobars for the entire bike leg.


It is important to do most of your long bike sessions on a flat course to improve your endurance and specific racing needs. If you live in a hilly area with very limited access to flat roads, an indoor trainer is a great option to work on endurance since it simulates the no-rest-or-coasting conditions of Busselton.


Apart from riding long and on a flat course on your weekends, a great way to simulate the later stages of the bike leg is by doing a negative split ride on the trainer in your time trial position, as described below:


1hr negative split ride as:


20min easy

20min moderate

20min hard


**race cadence (70-80rpm) and on your aerobars for the entire workout
Run (42.2km)

The new four-lap run course along the Busselton foreshore is also flat, which only adds to the neuromuscular fatigue of your already tired biking legs. At Busselton, there are no hills but there is also no rest!


Your muscles are firing at the same rate and your stride is exactly the same for the entire course. Unless you are a very experienced triathlete who is aiming for a placing, I highly recommend using a run:walk protocol, which provides you with a neuromuscular reset every so often.


In racing, aid stations may be our saving grace in more ways than just the opportunity to refuel. They give us a reason to stop or slow down for a short period of time. This, it appears, is enough time for a rest in neuromuscular patterns to occur. Many professional Ironman racers will walk through aid stations. This is simply because they have learned that taking on fuel is easier after walking while they also feel better when they resume running. These breaks seem to ward off fatigue.


A great way to simulate this scenario is by structuring your long runs with walk breaks to fuel, which will also give you the opportunity to run with a better technique, at a faster pace, and it decreases injury risk.


Long run structured as:


2hr20 to 2hr40 (depending on level, background, goals, etc) as:

9min run at 90 steps per minute

1min power walk for refueling


To sum it up, Ironman Busselton is a great experience, both for the first-time ironman and the veteran looking for a PB, but make sure you develop your endurance, learn how to use muscular resets on the bike and run, since the flat course can be extremely challenging.


Enjoy your training.

Vinnie Santana

Coaching Tips: Races in Asia – Ironman Western Australia

 – By Vinnie Santana —

ironguides is the leading Lifestyle Facilitation company for athletes of all abilities. We provide coaching and training services, plans and programs, as well training education, health and fitness products to help you learn and live a healthy lifestyle. Come get fit with one of our monthly training subscriptions, event-specific training plans, coaching services, or a triathlon training camp in an exotic location! ironguides also provides Corporate Health services including Corporate Triathlons, Healthy Living retreats and speaking engagements. At ironguides, your best is our business!

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