Triathlon must be the most European of all sports – its a combination of seemingly unconnected pieces of random size. I’m a triathlete, not a very succesfull one though. Even though I’m no high flyer, I enjoy my sport very much. Not going for the medals, just doing my best to finish, hopefully not in the last 10. But the last triathlon I’ve done (almost) everything went just right, and for the first time in my life I’ve actually finished among the upper 1/3rd of the participants! So I sat down to evaluate the extraordinary (for my standards) performance and wrote down some tips and tricks a triathlete might use to get a little extra edge. Some of these may seem trivial but it might surprise you how many triathletes don’t do these very basic things!
Get proper gear
You really don’t have to splash on the latest wetsuit model, teardrop-shaped helmets or GPS-equipped heart rate monitors to gear up for a triathlon. Pick up the low-hanging fruit first!
- Gear up for the switch. I don’t win any triathlons, nor any of the disciplines, but I do the fastest switches. Elastic shoelaces, waste band for your number and talc powder for your shoes (instead of socks) can save you up to 3 minutes! Costs – less than 10 Euro.
- Fit your bicycle with time trial/triathlon handlebar. Its not the most comfortable position to cycle in, I know. Personally, I get a pain in the neck from it. But on the distances most triathletes race (20 or 40 km cycling) its just 40-80 minutes of a race max, and its not like you have to do all your training like this. Gives me a 2-3 kph speed bonus – aerodynamics rules!
- Get yourself a pair of proper sunglasses. Ones that will shield your eyes not only from the sun but also from the wind. A decent pair of cycling sunglasses with changeable lenses for a shady day shouldn’t set you back more than 50 Euro’s (and probably less).
As the saying goes “if you wanna be dumb, you gotta be tough”. Training hard is useless, unless you train smart, too. There’s more to training than just killing time while sweating.
- Train for the switch. You do swimming lying down, cycle sitting and run in an upward position. Your body adapts the blood flow to each of these positions and it takes time to switch the blood stream. Your heart rate and breath are, however, at full speed so its easy to jump off the bicycle and start running at full speed, right into a cramp. Build switches between disciplines into your training program to get familiar with the physiology of the process.
- Do an altitude training. I know, not everyone can just drop everything and go to Tenerife for a week. But if you are going on a vacation in the mountains, you can schedule a triathlon for the weekend after you’re back.
- Take proper rest. Something I was never able to do. However, this time I did nothing for a whole week before the race, except cycling to work a couple of times. The result? I showed up for the start relaxed and fresh, after a week of good sleep.
Prepare for the race day
- Find your race day breakfast. Mine’s oatmeal and coffee, but these things are very personal. The point is to be well-fed, yet empty at the start.
- Practice the switch. Literally, lay out your cycling and running shoes, helmet, wasteband, sunglasses and whatever else you need, put on your swimcap and goggles, and practice taking them off and putting the cycling gear on. And then the running switch. This way you don’t come out of the water and start grabbing things but know your routine and keep calm and focused.
- Reckon the track. Something I don’t do because I’m lazy to go out there a week before the race and cycle the track. Something I should do because I’ve missed a corner a few times before. Having to pick up lost speed is bad enough, ending up under a truck might be worse – triathlons are usually not important enough to close the roads for all traffic.
As I’ve mentioned, there’s probably nothing new in these tips and tricks. But they do work. And put together, these things just might help you set a better performance. Sure helped me. Happy triathlons!