Most of you will have come into triathlon from one of the three disciplines it incorporates – for most people this is running or cycling. You have some experience of racing in ‘your own’ sport, consider yourself to be fit and want to start stretching and testing yourself a bit further.
Then comes the crunch. Not only do you have to start relearning two other sports (most of us have had some experience of all three disciplines at some time, even if it was way back in our school days) but you have to discover how to combine all three and start treating them as one sport.
Now matter how fit you consider yourself to be, you will benefit from improved technique in all areas of triathlon. A few simple technical improvements in your swimming, cycling and running will help shave valuable seconds and minutes off your race time but most importantly will harness your fitness and energy in the right way.
Sheer guts and determination can overcome poor technique to some extent (although more often than not this will lead to injuries) but good technique can achieve the same results – meaning you have your strength stored up for when you need it most.
Simply put, do you want to be an athlete who trains to the limit then falls over the line exhausted in a disappointing time or do you want to train smarter and smoother and see real results on race day?
Use this section to get the basics correct for your two ‘weaker’ disciplines, but also revisit your strongest discipline to look for any improvements you can make. Remember you now have to train across three disciplines, which means the time previously dedicated to your sport will be reduced. So, for instance, if you came into triathlon from a running background you may now find yourself out on the road only two to three times a week instead of five or more because of the time you need getting your swimming and cycling up to scratch. Good technique can counter this drop in quantity.
And there can be no better place to get things right than at the transitions. Progressing from the water to your bike and later from your wheels to your feet can make or break your race. It’s not only the time you lose by fumbling around at transitions but the momentum you lose as a result. A nice, smooth transition that goes as planned, can act as a mental boost and keeps your mind focused on the real job at hand.
For most of us new to triathlon, swimming is the least favourite part of the race. Concentrate on a smooth stroke and getting your body position, leg kick, hand entry and breathing right and swimming, even in open water, needs hold no fears.
Cycling offers many opportunities to improve your technique so take time to look at all the aspects you will encounter, from hill climbing to downhills, to cornering to drafting (when allowed). Save a few seconds at every corner, every climb and every descent and your race times will tumble. Again, smoothness is everything, so work on your pedal stroke and eliminating the ‘dead spots’ (see pages 42-45) at the top and bottom of each pedal cycle, which waste so much time.
As you tire, an efficient technique becomes more and more important. As you enter the running phase of the triathlon, confidence in your technique will help you overcome fatigue and carry you home. Work on the small elements of technique during your running training and learn to listen to your body to see works for you. Keeping your style loose and relaxed is the key, and it will hold you in good stead as you approach the final, gruelling part of your triathlon.
It’s pretty simple: if you do not train consistently you will not see the improvements or get the results you want in your running. The biggest obstacle you can face in getting consistent runs under your belt is a busy lifestyle. But it’s not impossible to go from thinking you don’t have time to even breathe to training hard, entering a race and, who knows, even hitting the infamous ‘wall’ yourself one day.
In general most people have to fit their runs in around family and work. This is where you have to be creative. Many runners get their long Sunday runs out of the way before anyone else is up so not to impact on their family life. Even if you do run early, as long as you eat properly after training you will feel great for the rest of the day. Other tips are to run into work, or if you live too far for that then get off the bus or train en route to work and run in the rest of the way. If you pick your children up from school, try to go early so you can run near to where you are picking them up. If you take them to after-school clubs take your running shoes with you. Get your training days established with gentle jogs before you start the running programme. You will soon discover there is time to run.
In simple terms be organized. Have your running kit and everything else you need prepared the day before. Know what is provided at the race and what you will have to take (you will need pre- and post-drinks and food, and for the long races a comfy pair of shoes to put on after the race). Have all this in your running bag so there are no late panics.
If you are racing away from home and need any accommodation make sure it is pre-booked and you know the logistics of how you are getting to the race line, where you leave your running bag, where you are collecting your bags from, and how you are getting back. The big events are incredibly well organized but if you have 30,000 runners heading towards one start line, there will always be some problems getting there. Allow plenty of time to get to the start as you do not want to be stressed before a race and use
up valuable energy.
For the half- and full marathons a warm-up will not be necessary as you should start slowly and build your pace gradually. For 10 km runs you will need a good 15 minutes warm-up, building up to race pace for the last few strides. Add a gentle pre-stretch and then you will be ready for the off.
Hitting the wall
When you were worried about your busy lifestyle, you never thought this would be a problem did you? In reality the wall should only be a problem in the marathon. In simple terms, hitting the wall happens when your glycogen levels (carbohydrates once they have been converted) start running out. Glycogen is your main source of energy when running endurance events and once this is depleted your body will revert to using fat stores as energy, which can leave you feeling very flat and unable to perform at the same intensity. This typically happens at about the 30 km (about 19 mile) mark because a body can only store approximately 2,000 kcal of glycogen, which runs out at about this distance.
You can get your glycogen levels up with sports drinks and gels. The general rule of thumb is to take a sports drink before the race and a gel every 6 km (about 4 miles) or so. However you must try this in training (your long runs are an ideal time to practice) and carefully follow the instructions on the gel pack. They all vary on frequency of use, some have caffeine in, which may not agree with you, and you will need to drink water soon after consumption for most gels.
The other way to prevent your body hitting the wall is through training. By training aerobically for long periods of time your body will adapt and get used to using fat as an energy source earlier. This will then enable you to preserve some of the glycogen stores for longer.