10 training tips for triathlons

  1. Ive done a few marathons, but have little experience of swimming or cycling, should I even be thinking about doing a triathlon?

Of course! Lots of novices take up triathlon having little to no experience of one or more of the sports and that’s all part of the fun. You’ll be amazed at how friendly and welcoming triathletes and triathlon clubs are and there’s nothing more an experienced athlete enjoys than introducing someone new to the sport.

The beauty of triathlon is that the challenge is between you and the clock, so it doesn’t matter what standard you are, the test is the same for everyone. The fact you have experience of marathon running will stand you in great and will give you an advantage over many people who might only have experience of doing a few laps of the pool or commuting to and from work on their bike.

2. “Do I have to wear a wetsuit?

If you are taking part in an open water race in the UK, the chances are that wetsuits will be compulsory under British Triathlon guidelines. Wetsuits are only forbidden when the water is above 22 degrees Celsius and open water swims are not permitted when the water is below 12.5c degrees Celsius.

A wetsuit can be a huge bonus for weak swimmers as they are made of neoprene, which improves buoyancy as well as your swim body position. It takes time getting used to swimming in a wetsuit though, so make sure you try it out before race day. Wetsuits come in different thicknesses (usually 2mm, 3mm, 5mm) designed for different water temperatures. Less thickness means more flexibility but it might also mean less protection from colder temperatures. As for the question of how thick is 5mm suit and whether it will be the ideal one for you, that’s something you can know only after trying it out.

3. Im scared, I cant touch the bottom on the swim.

It’s perfectly natural to feel apprehensive if you’re a novice swimmer. However, with some open water swimming practice and some sound advice, you will soon overcome your fears and enjoy what can be the most exhilarating part of a triathlon.

If you want more advice, go along to an open water swimming venue. Staff there can give you advice on everything from which wetsuit to use through to one-on-one coaching sessions. Or there are scores of triathlon clubs that run their own open water sessions where there will be qualified coaches and experienced triathletes on hand to help you out.

4. Will someone swim over me on the swim?

The opening metres of the swim in a triathlon can be frantic, but this largely depends on the size of the race and the standard of the field. In big races where competitors start in waves of 150+ things can be hectic and it is highly possible you may find someone swimming ‘over you, under you or even across you’. This usually happens because there are a large number of people in a small space all racing to the first buoy, which can sometimes be less than 200m away from the start line. Things usually calm down after the first 100m or so as the faster swimmers race off and the field evens out.

It is highly unlikely that you will encounter problems at smaller races as the majority of UK sprint-distance races have small fields where competitors start in waves of 100 or less. Nevertheless, do prepare yourself as even a sparsely populated wave could be full of swimmers who are so pumped up on adrenaline they fail to see competitors in their path.

5. “Do I have to ride my bike in a pair of briefs?

Although you could ride your bike in your swimsuit, this certainly isn’t the most comfortable option! You could change in ‘T1′ (the first transition from swim to bike Ed) from your swimwear into your bike gear, but with the clock ticking as you do this, there are far less time-consuming options available.

Investing in a tri-suit (an all-in-one suit) that can be worn for all three disciplines is advisable. If you don’t fancy the all-in-one number, there are also two-piece triathlon tops and shorts, which do the job just as well. These are worn underneath your wetsuit and are made of quick-drying material.

This means that you can peel off your wetsuit post-swim, run to your bike in transition, put on your bike helmet and shoes set off and and save lots of time.

It is worth remembering that nudity in transition will lead to instant disqualification, so wearing a tri-suit rather than attempting embarrassing changes certainly has its benefits!

British Triathlon rules also state that all competitors must ensure their upper body, especially the chest area, is clothed during the bike and run.

6. Will my commuting bike embarrass me?

Definitely not. In fact, it is very common to see commuting bikes being used at triathlons, which are popular with first-timers, such as the Blenheim Triathlon or the Eton Super Sprints. It makes sense to use your own tried-and-trusted bike before splashing out on an expensive triathlon bike, which you might only use once.

There are various steps you can take to ‘upgrade’ your commuting bike to make it more suitable for a race too. One of the most important changes you can make is to the tyres. Using slick road tyres (1-1.5inches) and inner tubes pumped to 100psi+ will certainly speed you up. You could also consider using clipless pedals and cycling shoes which are far more energy efficient than toe-clip pedals and trainers. They do take a bit of getting used to though, so make sure you practice with them if you decide you want to give them a go.

7. What should I do if I get a puncture?

Don’t attempt to continue cycling as you could damage your bike. You should always carry a saddlebag containing a few essentials so that in the event of a puncture or other mechanical problems, you have the basic kit needed to get you home or through a race.

The saddlebag, which fits neatly under your saddle, should contain spare inner tubes, tyre levers and a multi-tool. It is also wise to carry a small pump, which can usually be attached to your bike frame.-

8. What is ‘drafting’ and how can I avoid it?

Drafting is the name given to taking shelter behind or beside another competitor while on the bike. It is illegal in age-group racing and time penalties (usually two minutes) are given to any participant seen drafting. British Triathlon rules state that the ‘draft zone is viewed as a rectangle measuring seven metres long by three metres wide which surrounds every competitor on the bike course’.

The front edge of the front wheel defines the centre of the leading three-metre edge of the rectangle. A competitor may enter the draft zone to overtake and has a maximum of 15 seconds to do this. If it is not completed within 15 seconds, the overtaking cyclist must drop back.

However, in races where waves of 100+ people start just a few minutes apart, it can often become congested on the bike course and it can be difficult not to find yourself in another competitor’s draft zone. This often happens on fast, flat bike courses where there are no hilly sections to spread out the field. If you find yourself caught in a large bunch of cyclists, do all that you can to get out of the pack safely. This might mean slowing up and letting the pack pass or putting in a hard effort to break away. If you don’t, you will be penalised.

Drafting is considered cheating in age-group racing and you won’t make many friends if you deliberately set out to draft.

9. Should I get ‘tri bars’?

If you are new to triathlon and not sure yet whether it is for you, there is no point spending money on a set of tri bars as they are not ‘absolute essentials’ as far as kit and equipment go. However, if you are already a self-confessed tri addict and are looking to save a few seconds every mile then it is definitely worth getting some.

Triathletes talk about ‘getting aero’, that’s riding in the most aerodynamic position possible and tri bars can help you create this time-saving position. The more upright you are, the more wind resistance and drag you create, which slows you down. Tri bars, if positioned correctly, will allow you to ride in a narrower, flatter and therefore more aerodynamic position, enabling you to ride faster for the same effort. Seek expert advice when fitting them and get used to them in training before attempting to race with them.

10. Im pretty disorganised, how can I get through each transition successfully?

The answer is simple: you have to be organised. Transition – the so-called ‘fourth sport’ can make or break your race. You need to make sure you have everything set out simply and in the order in which you will need it. Remember: when you come into transition for the first time you’ll have just swum 400m/750m/1500m (depending on race distance) and will appreciate all the help possible in finding your kit.

When setting out your equipment look for landmarks or guides which will lead you back to your bike in T1. Although it might seem easy to find before the race, once the adrenaline is pumping and you are mid-race, things will be very different.

Set out your helmet, sunglasses and bike shoes. Alongside them put your run shoes and visor/hat if you are using one. Ensure your water bottle is on your bike, and anything you may want for the run is next to your run kit (energy drink or gels, for example).

Once you are happy that all of your equipment is ready, it is often useful to familiarise yourself with the layout of the transition: where will you be coming in to after the swim? Where is the bike exit? Where is the run exit? At large races, such as the Mazda London Triathlon there can often be hundreds of people in transition at any one time, so it pays to know where you are going.