Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Triathlon is about more than swimming, biking and running.

In my years of competing in triathlon I have accumulated a lot of knowledge about the sport. My main conclusions are that triathloning is about more than swimming, biking and running - and many people are unaware of that. So, this post is meant for you: the aspiring triathlete, the beginner triathlete, the triathlete who's goal it is to win their age group or the triathlete who is thinking about turning pro.

My advice for triathletes (beyond the swim, bike and run):

1) Have patience. This is difficult to hear for any endurance athlete, as the goal is typically to complete a given distance in the fastest time possible. However, there is that phrase, "slow down to speed up" and that is very relevant to triathlon. For example, there is no point in increasing your speed or volume, if you don't have proper technique. It very commonly leads to injury. (More on this topic to be published in a book later this year. Stay tuned!)

2) Pay attention to detail. Know the course you are going to be competing on (including the transition area), it helps you enjoy the race more. Ensure that your bike fits, ensure that you are both aerodynamic and comfortable so that you don't lose "free speed", ensure that your bike is properly tuned up (tires get worn out, bike chains get stretched, cables can break or stretch and bolts can get loose or rusty), ensure you plan and practice proper nutrition, ensure you have used all your equipment before the race.

3) Don't practice until you get it right, practice until you can't get it wrong. Race day is full of additional stressors and the added anxiety makes you more likely to make mistakes. However, if you have practiced enough, this is less likely to happen on race day. For example, ensure that you can run after a race pace bike session, make sure you can sight while swimming at race pace, practice your transitions, and even...practice that bottle exchange, over and over!

4) Train your weaknesses, first. You may be a fantastic cyclists, but a weak swimmer. You may have great speed, but no endurance. So don't emphasize the cycling in your training and keep all your workouts short and fast. Focus on what needs work, even though it might not be as much fun.

5) Rest and recovery days don't just mean no swimming, biking or running. Unfortunately, "off training" days don't mean you get to load up on chores, eat lots of junk food, indulge in a few too many beers or glasses of wine. Your recovery days are actually more important than your training days in some respects. Your body is repairing and rebuilding during this time, so that you can benefit from your hard sessions and be ready for the next block of training. So what you do and what you eat actually matters just as much (or more) as on a training day. Eat simple sugars before, during or right after a big training session, but on your off days: Stay off your feet, get a massage, try to eat healthy food loaded with vitamins and minerals, hydrate on water. (Sorry if this isn't what you wanted to hear!)

6) Proper nutrition is key. This is more important for the longer races. Plan out your nutrition before a training session or longer workout. Practice your race day nutrition in a race simulation workout. For help figuring this out, see eLoad's nutrition calculator here. Also important is to eat enough carbohydrates the day or few days (for racing) before. This will ensure you have enough fuel to get you through that training session or race, and that you will be able to perform to your full potential.

7) Don't overtrain. Have a few key workouts per week or per training block (less is more if you have a busy schedule - remember what I said about recovery?). The remaining workouts should be low key, or have different goals. An easier/aerobic run (compared to running your guts out at race pace) is not lost training time, it is time to work on technique, to test out new running gear. Frequency improves economy (the energy it takes to perform a given task) and is better for injury prevention, so opt for more frequent sessions (even if many of them are easier or shorter) over a few longer sessions.

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