Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Transitions are important for ALL triathletes. Whether you are a beginner or an elite, just there to compete or to win, a good transition will help your race run smoothly.

Good Transition Setup:

Check out this photo for a good transition area setup (the key: organization!) and below for more details on transitions.

Note: You can rack your bike by the rear of the saddle or the front. This bike is racked by the rear, but if you rack it at the front, ensure that you can slide your bike under the rack without it getting stuck! And keep your gear bag along the fence of the transition area (or in the appropriate area) and not crowding someone else's bike.

Prior to the race start, walk through the transition area from the swim exit to your bike and then from your bike to the bike exit and the bike in to your bike and from your bike to the run exit. Note whether there is a grade at the bike mount line so you know whether your bike should be racked in the big or small ring (usually you always put the bike in the small ring in the front, middle cassette on the back). Take note of surrounding landmarks near your spot in transition (or mark it with a bright towel). When you come in from the bike, running shoes are a bit harder to spot than your bike (as in the first transition), so keep that in mind. You might want to put baby powder or vaseline in your socks or running shoes to prevent blistering.

Put Vaseline/Body Glide on your ankles and arms to make it easier to get your wetsuit on and off. If you plan to use sunscreen, apply it before the race start (so you don't need to do so in your first transition). Wipe any grease off your hands before touching your goggles.

Transition One: Swim to Bike

1. At the end of the swim, when you are about 200m away from the swim finish, start to pick up your kick to increase the blood flow to your legs. This will warm them up for the run or walk to your bike and the following early part of the ride. This is also a time to start visualizing your first transition.

2. Once the water gets shallow enough that you can actually touch it while you are swimming, start doing dolphin dives (jumping up off the bottom of the lake and diving forward), and once the water is about knee deep you can start running towards the exit.

3. Exit the water and lift your goggles up (but leave them on your head!). Unzip your wetsuit (or use a wetsuit stripper if it's going to be a long run to your bike). Take off the upper half of your wetsuit while you make your way to your bike. Once your wetsuit is half off, you can take off your cap and goggles and run/walk with them in your hand towards your bike.

4. When you get to the bike, put down your cap and goggles, take off your wetsuit (stepping out of it if you need to), then put on sunglasses and helmet, then bike shoes (if they aren't clipped into your pedals). Then take your bike by the stem or saddle and walk or run with it towards the mount line. Once PAST the mount line, you can get on your bike. Take your time clipping in, don’t rush! You should be in an easy enough gear so that you aren't grinding right from the start. If it's a muddy/slippery transition area, you may want to carry your shoes to the mount line and put them on there (keep in mind you will have to hold your bike while putting on your shoes).

Transition Two: Bike to Run

1. Unclip (or slip your feet out of your shoes) and slow down a couple hundred meters before the dismount line. Be sure to dismount BEFORE the line.

2. After dismounting, run/walk your bike towards your spot in transition (where your run shoes are). You can rack your bike by the handlebars or the saddle, whatever is easier. Then take off your helmet and bike shoes. Slip on your socks and running shoes (use speed laces for quicker T2, speed laces are elastic laces that expand and retract so you can easily slip your foot into your shoes during your second transition - and don't have to waste any time tying them up!). Apply sunscreen if necessary. Grab your race belt, hat and water bottle/gel flask and head for the run exit. Clip on your race belt while heading to the transition exit and then head out on the run!

Here is a video that can help you visualize the transition.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Weekend Recap: Training on the Muskoka Course

This past weekend WattsUp Cycling held a training camp for athletes in Huntsville. Adam, Kevin and I were the coaches that helped the athletes navigate one of the most difficult courses on the Ironman circuit. These athletes may not realize it yet, but they are significantly more prepared for this race (and any race) then they were before. Even if they might be a bit more scared then they were before!

The training camp was Friday to Sunday. We planned to swim the race course on Friday and Sunday, but water temps of 11C prevented that! 10 brave people still got in the water though (not me!). On Saturday, we got to ride part of the bike course by taking part in the Spin the Lakes, a fundraiser for the Canadian Mental Health Association, followed by a run off the bike. We practiced some open water swim skills in a warm pool later on Saturday afternoon. Sunday, some of us swam (not me!) then we rode the first 15km of the Muskoka bike course and back, then ran the run course. It was a full on weekend that is likely harder than the actual event itself!

The new Muskoka 70.3 course is very similar to the old Muskoka chase course. The swim course is identical. It is in a river which bends and twists. But having a good swim at Muskoka is not impossible. Taking steps that are within your control to prepare you will ensure that you do have a good swim. This includes familiarizing yourself with the course (swim the river the day before the race), sight often - don't keep you head down and swim blindly, defog your goggles prior to the race (use Aquasphere anti-fog or baby shampoo) and just follow the shoreline on your left. If you follow all these steps, the course is as easy as any other swim.

The bike course combines some of the old Muskoka Chase bike course with the old Ironman 70.3 route. It starts out along a relatively flat/rolling Brunel Rd, then you make a quick left turn onto Britannia - watch out for this turn as it comes up quick. Then you will face the hardest part of the course on Britannia - it's VERY important not to surge too much on these hills as those short and hard efforts will really tax your legs towards the end of the ride. Accelerate into the hills and keep a high cadence throughout the climb. You should be in your easiest gear at the steepest part of the climbs. Don't try to grind up in a hard gear or your heart rate and power will soar way too high. Try to keep the heart rate and power steady. If you know what your threshold heart rate/power is, then try to limit the time you spend above that number. As you near the end of Brittania you will descend a hill and then you make a very sharp left turn onto South Portage Road, which you will take north for awhile. There are quite a few climbs on this stretch, though there are some flat sections too. There is a steady climb before you turn right onto Dwight Beach Road. Dwight Beach Road is mostly downhill - yay!. Then you are out on the highways. If it's windy you will feel it here, but the climbs are far less steep. Try to ride this in aero position as much as possible. If you are on a grade, but can still feel the wind against your face and your cadence is above 70 then stay low in the aero position. Only get up out of aero if the cadence drops too low. The final stretch of the ride is along Brunel and this is not nearly as difficult as the beginning of the ride. Keep the cadence high and select an easier gear as you approach the finish of the course so as to not leave your legs feeling heavy for the run. If you paced the swim and bike properly and had patience early on in the ride then you will be just fine. Another note for the bike course is, if you can, use a compact crankset (I have a semi-compact and that seemed fine) with an 11/28 or bigger cassette - talk you your bike mechanic if you have questions about gearing. You want to have access to some easy gears on this course.

The good news is that the new run course is much flatter than the old run course. The best part - it's two loops! A lot better for spectators to cheer you on. There are still a few hills (one coming right out of transition), but otherwise the course is more rolling ups and downs than anything steep. If you pace the bike properly (if you think you rode slightly too easy that's a good sign!) and stayed on top of your nutrition, the run will not be overly difficult. However, there isn't too much tree cover on the course. If it's hot then keep your core temperature down by splashing water on your head, face, body and legs. Take in fluid at every aid station. Watch your heart rate, if it's slowly drifting up then you may be dehydrated so take in some extra fluid.

The Muskoka Chase (in 2004) was the second triathlon I ever did. I had no idea what I was getting myself into! I had no one to give me advice or tell me what to expect. So, this training camp (and hopefully this blog) will give anyone who hasn't experienced the course a good idea of how to handle the event. Good luck and feel free to contact me with any questions you may have about the course.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Don't fear the swim!

Many triathletes find the swim portion of the triathlon to be the most daunting. The number of times I hear that the swim is an impediment to athletes trying a triathlon is too many to count. And the number of triathletes that lack confidence about their swim is just as many. So, I decided to write this post about a logical progression to get from being scared of the swim, to being able to conquer the swim! This post is relevant for the non-swimmer who wants to get into triathlon, or for the swimmer who has failed to progress in the sport since they started.

The steps to better swimming:

1. Get over your fear of triathlon swims
2. Learn to swim and/or improve your technique
3. Get faster

Read on for a more detailed explanation of the above and click on the links for videos.

1. Get over your fear of the triathlon swim

If you've never done a triathlon before, here are a few things you need to know about the triathlon swim that might make it seem a bit less scary:

- You can wear a wetsuit (unless the water/air temp is too hot that it would be dangerous to your health - very rare occurrence) and a wetsuit gives you a natural buoyancy. So, if your excuse is that you sink when you swim, well, that’s not going to happen because of the wetsuit. Not only that, but a wetsuit keeps you warm. so, the water temperature isn’t an excuse either!
- You don’t have to do front crawl the whole time. Yes, you can do backstroke, you can do breaststroke, you can run along the bottom of the lake if it’s shallow. You can even grab on to a lifeboat as long as the lifeboat is not moving forward and you don’t use it to propel yourself forward.
- You don’t have to start with a huge group if you don't want to. Usually a triathlon is broken into “waves” so you are in groups of people in your age group. You can choose to either start 30s or so after your age group is signalled to start their race or you can even sign up to start in the very last wave of the event.

2. Learn to swim and/or improve your technique

So, now that you've registered for your triathlon (maybe one of the many Multisport Canada Events :) - what do you do?

Join a Learn to Swim program offered by the City of Toronto
Get private swim lessons
Do it yourself!

Start with buoyancy drills! Basically, just practice floating! Float on your back, on your side, on your stomach. Always try to keep your feet, hips and head at the surface of the water. Practice treading water in the deep end. Practice vertical kicking.
Do this for the whole 30 minutes every 2-3 days for 1-3 weeks.

Next, work on breathing drills. Blow bubbles with your head in the water, kick with a board and blow bubbles with your face in the water. Next, practice some freestyle strokes with a board.
Add this (20mins) to your buoyancy drills (10mins) every 2-3 days for 1-3 weeks.

Next, master your kick: Kick on your back with your board over your knees, make little splashes with your toes when you kick, kick with a pull buoy/band between your thighs to prevent yourself from kicking with your knees, do some lower back stretches and hip openers to loosen those hips.
Add this (20mins) to your breathing (5mins) and buoyancy drills (5mins) every 2-3 days for 1-3 weeks.

Master your body position and streamline: Progress your kicking drills to the 6-kick switch drill progressing to 3 strokes of swimming between each 6 kicks (3-6-3-6 drill). Think about being as long as possible when you are moving through the water. Keep the top of your head pointed in the direction you area heading. Limit any side to side movementDrive the rotation with the hips.
Add this (20mins) to your other kicking drills (5mins) and buoyancy drills (5mins) every 2-3 days for 1-3 weeks.

Work on your feel for the water: Sculling on your front, sculling on your back head and feet first!
Add this (20mins) to your other kicking drills (5mins) and body position drills (5mins) every 2-3 days for 1-3 weeks.

Add the arms! (finally): Do some catch-up freestyle with a board for assistance with hand entry and front quadrant style swimming (more ideal for distance swimmers). Practice swimming 1 length of front crawl/freestyle at a time, each with a different focus: 1 length focused on heels and head position, 1 length thinking about being as long as possible, 1 length thinking about keeping the opposite arm out in front when you breath and 1 length thinking about arms entering shoulder width apart, 1 length thinking about keeping your hand below your elbow at all times - don’t slap the water with your elbow when you enter, 1 length thinking about pushing the water toward your feet.
Add this(20mins) to your other kicking drills (5mins) and other drills (5mins) every 2-3 days for 1-3 weeks.

3. So, you've got near perfect technique, but now you want to get fast, so what do you do?

Join a Swim Team (Such as Masters or Triathlon swim teams with good and attentive coaches. This will help you get faster, no question)
Train smart on your own

To elaborate on the "train smart on your own" I will remind you that:

- You need to continue to work on technique with the swim. As soon as you feel your technique fall apart, your practice is over or you need to take some extra rest before your next length/set.
- You need to vary your training. Speed work, critical swim speed work, endurance work, pull and paddles work, technique, and race simulation are crucial. You can't swim at the same speed all the time. You need to swim faster at times and slower at times. How much emphasis on faster or slower swimming depends on the race you are training for.
- Work on your weak spots. If your kick isn't very good then focus on improving your hip and ankle mobility. If you aren't strong, then do some swim chord work. If your elbow drops during your pull, then focus on that.
- You need to swim in the open water. Pool swimming is quite different from open water swimming, so if you want to be successful in the triathlon swim, you've got to practice it.

I've given you the tools for a good progression for a triathlete swimmer, now it's your choice to use them!

I coach Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday at Regent Park Pool year round for the Toronto Triathlon Club. I also coach open water swims in July and August for the Toronto Triathlon Club. Find out more information about the club and their swims here.