Training

17 ways to find extra speed for race-day

Triathlon’s fastest finishers reveal their time-saving secrets to help you reach the line as quickly as humanly possible

1.Prep is crucial

Make like a pro and follow Commonwealth gold medallist Jodie Stimpson’s prep guidelines for a speedy, stress-free race day

The night before a race, I run through each discipline in my head to visualise what I’ll need. Then I lay out all the kit on my bed and pack it in my bag. That way I don’t have to do it in a rush in the morning. 

I’ll work through the swim, bike and run and, in the process, lay out my wetsuit, two pairs of goggles, two hats (it’s always good to have spares), my tri-suit, race belt, bike helmet, bike shoes, glasses, nutrition, water bottles, run shoes, my timing chip, towel, talcum powder, sun cream and heart rate monitor, as well as any post-race clothing. Then it all gets packed into my race bag, except for my tri-suit, which I wear to the site. 

I also plan my breakfast and leave the ingredients out to save time in the morning. For me, it’s oats for breakfast and rice for lunch. 

2. Master transition

Transition is the place where you can shave full minutes off your race time. Multiple 70.3 and Ironman age-group winner Andy Greenleaf explains how to master the sport-to-sport swap over…

Once you’ve registered, stick your race numbers on your bike and helmet, and prepare your number belt. Then make sure you put your timing chip somewhere safe where you won’t forget it.

Next, get to know the layout of the transition areas so you’re familiar with how to enter and exit them. Doing so can be hugely benefical, especially for Ironman events as you often need to pick up and drop off bags of kit and get changed in different locations. Leave yourself enough time on race day (or the day before if you have to rack then) so you can walk your route through transition and so you don’t waste time trying to figure it out during the race. 

Set out your kit in the order you’ll need it. So if you run with the bike on your right, put your run shoes on the left of your bike so you don’t have to run around it in the second transition. And make sure the laces are loose enough so you can pull your shoes on quickly. 

The key to a fast transition is knowing the location of your slot, so that when you come in from the swim or bike legs you can go straight to it. Memorise the number of rows your slot is from the transition entry or pick out some immobile route markers to help guide you to your slot when coming in from the swim and the bike. Being able to pinpoint your position can save you minutes in age-group racing.

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Triathlon transition: 10 common mistakes and how to put them right ...

3 Cut up your wetsuit

Channel your inner Edward Scissorhands and snip away at your wetsuit to save precious seconds – sometimes minutes – in transition, says Ironman 70.3 Ruegen record holder Alice Hector

Hacking inches off your finest neoprene may not sound like a good idea, but it’ll help you get your wetsuit off quicker. I used to always get my feet  stuck in the ankles of my suit and wasted seconds, or even minutes, trying to wrestle them out. But after I cut the last couple of inches off the legs, it became really easy to get the suit off. I always do this now, but it’s worth checking with your wetsuit’s manufacturer before you do in case it invalidates your warranty. For me, it’s vital that I’m slick through T1 so I also cut the arms back by an inch as well, and have previously won tight races due to a fast swim-bike transition. 

Lucy Charles, the fastest female swimmer at the 2015 Ironman World Championships, has a trio of tips for swifter times

4. Draft on the swim

Drafting saves energy, leaving you with more in the tank for the bike and run. Swim on the toes or the hip of the swimmer in front, ideally someone that’s a little faster than you so you can gain a speed benefit. Concentrate so you don’t lose contact, especially if they raise their pace.

How to practise swim drafting

  

5. Master turns

You can gain time by turning well and carrying speed around the buoy. If it’s a 180° turn and the buoy is on your left, you want to do one freestyle stroke with your left arm followed by one backstroke stroke with your right arm. Repeat this three times to efficiently turn around the buoy.

Best technique for swimming round buoys in a triathlon

  

6.Stay on target

Fog-free goggles are the key to sighting but so is integrating the action with your stroke. Sight when you breathe so your stroke isn’t interrupted. The more you lift your head the more you’ll see but the more your legs will sink. A constant kick rate will reduce the amount your legs drop.

14 triathlon swimming tips for race-day

7. Clip-in

This one takes practice, warns Alice Hector, but once mastered, will make exiting the first  transition as easy as… well, riding a bike! 

Save yourself the hassle of running through transition in bike shoes by having them clipped into your pedals before you set off. Once you’re out of your wetsuit, all you need to do is put on your helmet and race belt, then grab your bike and go. Run out of T1, jump on your bike and, with your feet on top of your shoes, pedal a few times to get going. Once you’ve got some momentum, reach down with your hand and slip each foot into its shoe. 

Attach your shoes to the bike frame or bottle cage with elastic bands through the heel loops. This will keep the shoes clear of the ground as you’re running – they’ll snap when you start pedalling. 

This requires practice, but will give you a big headstart on everyone who’s still putting their shoes on while you disappear up the road.

220’s bike coach and former world duathlon age-group champion Nik Cook shares his six top tips for a speedy bike leg across all distances

8. Bike care

A well-maintained bike is a fast bike. The watts-saving for a clean and well-lubed drivetrain compared to a dirty one are measurable. Ensure that your tyres are pumped to the correct pressures, your brake blocks aren’t rubbing and that your gears are correctly indexed.

9. Get aero

Even if you haven’t got a dedicated tri bike, there are still time-saving aero gains to make. Clip-on aerobars are the most obvious but ensure you put the training hours in on them before race day. You may also have to tweak your saddle position and stem length to accommodate them. Also, get your race number low on your back and out of the wind. If it’s flapping around, it’s costing you time and energy!

10. Stay aero

There’s no point in having an ultra-aggressive aero set-up if you can’t spend the majority of the ride tucked down in it. Train to the distance of your bike leg on your race bike, do flexibility work – if necessary – and consider making your position a bit more sustainable. 

11. Pace properly

Correct pacing will have a massive effect on the second half of your bike leg, especially for middle- and long-distance races, not to mention the run afterwards. Using a heart rate monitor and/or power meter – and having accurate zones – is essential to avoid overcooking it out of T1.

12. Bike handling

If your bike handling isn’t up to scratch, you’ll be shipping seconds through every corner and on every descent. Make your training rides technical, explore what you can do on your bike and, if necessary, get some coaching. Don’t do all your bike training on the turbo or on flat featureless roads. 

13. Recce the route

Riding the bike course beforehand is probably the biggest race-day time saver there is. You’ll learn which descents you can stay aero on, how much speed you can hold though corners and which gears to select for the various sections

Britain’s fastest man in Kona, David McNamee, shares his three essential Ironman race-day run tips

14. Walk the aid stations

Unless you find yourself trying to run a sub-3hr marathon then take an extra 10secs at every aid station to make sure you get what you need. It’s better than hitting the wall or, even worse, finding yourself in a condition where you can’t finish. Even the pros take their time during the aid stations, especially towards the last 15km.

15. Wear fresh socks

Socks, ideally fresh, for the Ironman marathon run are a must. Running 42.2km is hard enough after 180km on the bike, never mind adding the pain of the blisters you’ll quickly earn from running without socks. Take your time in T2 to make sure your trainers are on properly. The last thing you want is to have to stop mid-run to fix your feet.

16. Utilise run/walk

The Ironman run/walk strategy is good because it helps you mentally and will conserve your energy. Instead of focusing on how long you still have left of the run, you can focus on the next block of run/walk. Break it up by doing 10mins of running followed by 5mins of walking. Then pay attention to the time of each block and the kilometres will quickly pass without you realising.

 Master the walk/run strategy to become a faster triathlete

  

17. Gain speed on the run

A fast run doesn’t mean bombing it out of T2! As ITU World Triathlon Series podium finisher Tom Bishop explains, it’s all about pace and precision

Whatever the distance, find your rhythm as soon as possible and pace yourself ! It needs to be fast, efficient and able to carry you to the finish. To know what that pace is and how it feels, you need to  practise it in training. 

You can also save seconds here and there with little techniques, such as clipping the apex of bends, leaning into the dead turns, keeping your head up and shoulders back, and smiling – it helps you relax!

With regard to nutrition, only take drinks from the aid station when your need them, as it can disrupt your rhythm. Use gels, but always practise with them first in training to avoid any potential stomach upsets come race day. 

As for kit, try a couple of race shoes at a running shop, as they can save seconds over the course. But make sure they’re comfy. If you can, race without socks, so there’s one less thing to put on in transition. Put talc in your shoes instead to reduce friction. And use elastic laces [see right] so you can just slip your feet into your shoes and go!


 
 

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