MP3: Anna Tunnicliffe and the Pyramid of Pain ***

Audio (4:30 min): Anna Tunnicliffe was smaller and lighter than most of her competitors in the Laser Radial Olympic fleet, but she makes up for lack of stature with phenomenal fitness. Here she talks about some of her on-the-water training drills, including the Pyramid of Pain (our words, not hers, but once you've heard it you might agree).

If you don't want to listen to the audio, we've added a transcript of the interview below the photo.

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SailJuice: When you're doing a coaching session, what routines do you put people through to really help them make some gains?

Anna: We try and emphasize the endurance part of Laser sailing and the fitness parts so we do interval training on the water, so we'll do three minute hikes or two minute hikes and just try and focus on technique and posture for those two or three minutes and then take a little bit of a break and then do it again. So we really focus on that and then we also throw in endurance sailing where we'll do say a pyramid of five minutes on one tack, four minutes on another, and then 3,2, 1, just so it gives you something to focus on - a time frame to focus on and know how hard you need to work for that. So a big focus is on the endurance side of sailing.

SailJuice: I just want to pick up on the pyramid thing, just to be clear. So everyone starts on starboard and sails for five minutes and then they tack and they sail on port for four minutes and then three on starboard, two on port and one on starboard. Is that how it works?

Anna: Yes.

SailJuice: OK. And I bet people are crying out for those minutes to tick over aren’t they?

Anna: Yeah, and we do that in training too and it's mighty painful but it's good because a beat is usually somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes so if you can do two of these pyramids in a practice it becomes a piece of cake when you get to the racecourse. Then we focus on boathandling too. Boathandling when you're tired is much harder and much more sloppy than when you're fresh, so we like to do our boathandling more at the end of the day just so you can really practise on it whilst you're tired, and it makes you realise you might have flawless boathandling right when you get out of the harbour and you're rounding marks and it's no problem. But after you've just done an hour or an hour and a half of hiking and you come and try and do it again - it's a bit of a wakeup call to say 'maybe my boathandling is not as good as it needs to be'. So your mark roundings, starts, tacking, gybing, all of that - we push more towards the end of the practice.

SailJuice: Do you ever try match racing as a way of really throwing some manoeuvres in there?

Anna: Sometimes, but if I'm coaching with 10 boats it's harder and people argue, but I think it is very good to do match racing and to practise manoeuvres and see situations building so that you know what to do if you're in that situation in a race. But we generally don't do that in our practices. I do a lot of match racing on the side, so I use that as my practice for when I need it in a race situation.

SailJuice: Do you ever do any training in the Laser Radial by yourself?

Anna: Yes, absolutely.

SailJuice: What sorts of things would you go through when you're sailing by yourself?

Anna: Again I do the same thing as I would if I had a group of people - focusing on trying to build your endurance up and trying to practise and perfect your technique. If I set myself a goal of going 15 minutes doing one of those pyramids and I get to 12 minutes and my technique or my posture is slouching a little bit then I'll stop and regroup and say 'OK, I'm not going to push it for these last four minutes, I'm going to try again and take a little bit of a break, try it again.' When you're in a group you have to continue with a drill as normal but by myself I'll do the same drills but I can change them depending on how I'm feeling.

SailJuice: When you're at your level, what else is there to work on? Are you really just honing the same things that you already know how to do pretty well, or is there new stuff that you're discovering?

Anna: For me, I go out and I learn something new every day. You can always get better, you can always be faster. So I think you always have to go out and try and learn something, depending on the conditions, depending on the period of my season that it is. I'm working on different things so it's just dependent, but you can always learn more things.

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