Triathlete training on low muscle glycogen levels
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18 ways to maximise speed on race day

Want to go faster for longer? Here are 18 simple ways of gaining extra speed and efficiency on race day, without much extra effort.

01. THINK DOWNHILL

Swimming isn’t the strongest discipline for many of us, including experienced triathletes, so keep it simple by getting things ‘on’ your chest. “If you look slightly downward while ‘leaning’ on your chest, your hips and legs come up and follow your torso through the tube it’s created,” says top coach Joe Friel. “When done correctly, only a small portion of the back of the head will show above the water line as will your bottom.” In short, your body’s now more streamlined, reducing drag and increasing speed.

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02.  BEAT THE BURN

Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid that’s the building block of carnosine in muscles. Carnosine is important because it counteracts the fatiguing effect of reduced pH in the muscles caused by high-intensity sprints and lactic acid build-up. It’s claimed that taking beta-alanine can slash fatigue over repeated sprints by 5-10%, which will pay off in a race when seeking a good spot on the swim or climbing a hill. Daily doses of between 4.8 and 6.4g of beta-alanine have been shown to elevate muscle carnosine stores by 40-60% in four weeks and by up to 80% in 10 weeks. 

03.  SLEEP EASY, RACE FAST

Dr Adrian Rotunno is a sports physician at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa and has managed the health of numerous endurance athletes. One of his key remits is to maintain optimum performance during different time zones. “Jetlag has a huge impact on performance, so I’d recommend an app called Jet Lag Rooster,” says the good doctor. Just download the app, input your travel requirements, and it’ll plan your sleeping patterns in the UK and abroad so you’re fresher when you arrive.”

04. CUTTING-EDGE FUEL

“Keep an eye out for the emergence of ketones for fuelling endurance performance in the sports nutrition market,” says coach Tom Bennett. Ketones are gaining in popularity with recent studies showing they can deliver a 15% performance boost alongside improving recovery. 

A ketone body is a substance produced from fatty acids when our body is in a state of ketogenesis. This is known as a survival state that affords our bodies to survive without carbohydrate intake. You can now supplement with either liquid or powdered ketones, although evidence is stronger behind the liquids. That’s why a one-serving bottle costs £30. It’s more applicable over long distances so one for high-performing Ironman athletes with deep wallets.

05. RUN FLEXIBILITY

Annie Emmerson’s impressive run speed elevated her to world number one duathlete. In short, when Annie talks running, we listen. 

“I’m very much into working with the biomechanics you have, making subtle changes when needed,” says Emmerson. “I tend to choose a neutral shoe but, if I’m racking up lots of miles, I’ll buy an off-the-peg inner sole for added support. Sorbothane works well for me. I’d also remind folk that if you’re going to use racing flats for racing, please use them regularly beforehand in training, too, so your limbs become accustomed to them. The minimal cushioning can leave your Achilles tendons and calves sore if your muscles haven’t acclimatised to them.”

06. AFFORDABLE SPEED

Boosting speed doesn’t have to cost the earth with two of the most cost-effective purchases benefitting transition. Elastic bands attached to your tri bike shoe’s clamping mechanism and the rear wheel axle, on both sides, ensures you can slip in and clip in quicker out of T1. A pair of triathlon laces, such as those from Greeper or Xtenex, performs a similar changeover speed in T2.

07. SPEED RELEASE

Despite carbohydrates currently claiming the mantle as most demonised macro-nutrient, there’s irrefutable evidence that it’s rocket fuel to triathletes, especially during high-intensity segments. But your choice of pasta and how you cook it significantly impacts how energised you’ll feel during a race. “Sports chefs tends to cook al dente,” says sports doctor Dag Van Elsende. “It breaks down much more slowly than when cooked normally and so releases its
energy more gradually.”

08. TAME THE TEMPS

Facing races in temperatures that tip over 25°C?  That’s where simple but effective cooling strategies come in. These include a cold shower, spraying wristbands with a cool freeze spray (Deep Freeze, £5) and even using menthol. You see, menthol triggers thermoreceptors, eliciting a sensation of coolness without actual reductions in body temperature. Perhaps surprisingly, a meta-analysis by researcher Owen Jeffries showed that swilling menthol wash resulted in a greater performance improvement than applying a menthol gel on the skin.

09. MAXIMISE TECH

Up for a spot of pre-race on-the-fly pedalling assessment? Of course you are. That’s where Leomo’s motion-capture analytics comes in. The GPS-enabled device uses five motion sensors to record in three dimensions a rider’s pelvic tilt, plus the angular range of the legs and feet, which sends that information to the bar-mounted head unit. 

“Standard sensor fitting displays many useful features including a Dead Spot Score (DSS), which measures whether your feet take a coffee break when they’re meant to be pedalling smooth, even circles,” explains professional rider Adam Hansen who works with the start-up. This instant feedback will tell you if you need to refocus on technique and maintain an energy-efficient stroke. 

10. SPRINT START

If you’re new to triathlon and swimming is not your forte, it’s recommended to sit at the back, become comfortable with a mass swim and safely make your way to T1. If you’re an ‘improver’, however, you must become competent – and, in turn, confident – at sprint starts. One training method is simple. Swim at an all-out speed as if you were swimming 25m. Distance or time before you slow doesn’t matter; the point is to prepare your mind and body for a protracted race-start sprint.

11. PLANNING A PB

Understanding what lies ahead will give you more control over your performance. So look at the race organiser’s course maps in detail and use Google Maps, in satellite mode, to identify any challenging or key sections. Those with a real eye for detail can even unfurl their OS map to hone in on the contours. Also make the most of fellow triathlon friends who’ve raced the course before and the knowledge of locals.

Triathlon race-day: How to do a course recce

12. PICTURE PERFECTION

Fact: thinking about thinking is shown to help manage suffering and improve your performance. “We call it meta-cognition,” explains Dr Noel Brick, lecturer in sport and exercise physiology at Ulster University. “Elite athletes are in tune with their thoughts and mental processes, and that’s important to their pacing and effort perception. Simple things like focusing on your cadence and your technique. This ties in with models of fatigue where effort perception is key to pacing strategy, so if you can think strategically, like riding hard for efforts where you know there’s a lower-intensity stretch after, that’s the ideal.”

13. WHAT IF…?

“Being fully prepared means expecting the unexpected. That’s why you should create an ‘if-then plan’ for racing,” says performance psychologist Hannah Winter. 

“To do this, before your next triathlon, write down all the potential challenges you might face. Examples could include ‘if I get nervous’, ‘if the weather is bad’, ‘if I’m cold’, ‘if I lose my nutrition’, ‘if I get a puncture’ or ‘if I start to lose motivation’. After this, write next to each ‘if’ what you will ‘then’ do. Having ‘if-then’ plans has been found to increase athletes’ chances of reaching their sporting goals, as well as helping people to respond to setbacks that might occur.”

14 race-day strategies and techniques for different scenarios

14. THE ‘25’ REVOLUTION

Scan the pro cycling peloton and, aside from the occasional outlier, the riders will roll along on 25mm tyres. Many triathletes, however, remain on 23mm versions, sticking to the ‘thinner is faster’ tyre mantra from times gone by. “Our studies show that a 25mm tyre is 7% faster than a 23mm,” says Christian Wurmbaeck, product manager at Continental Tyres. Why is down to numerous reasons. While the surface area touching the road is surprisingly identical to 23mm tyres, where 25mm tyres meet the wheel is smoother and more aerodynamic. 25mm tyres also grip better in the rain and are less likely to pinch-flat. 

15.  KEEP ON BEETING IT 

It’s now over 10 years since Professor Andrew Jones showed that the nitrates in beetroot had endurance benefits. Since then, numerous studies have corroborated the beetroot-based improvements on tri efforts with one of the most recent, by professor Florian Husman, showing that those nitrates reduced muscle fatigue. So in time for your next race, consume at least 400mg of dietary nitrate a day. You can make smoothies or consume a Beet It Sport Shot.

16. AGE & INTENSITY

Maintaining intensity is integral to lessening the impact of ageing on performance. So if you’re over 50 and your next race is on the horizon, keep things fast. “Concentrate on leg turnover until cadences of about 90rpm, whether running or cycling, are comfortable and come naturally,” says top coach Joe Friel. “You’ll find this makes you more efficient and reduces the risk of injury while also stimulating nervous-system maintenance.” 

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17. OPTIMUM FUELLING

“There’s a difference between eating well and eating optimally,” says top age-group duathlete and Michelin-starred chef Alan Murchison. “Eating well could mean a corn-fed chicken breast and organic kale, but fuelling a long ride off kale alone is a recipe (pardon the pun) for disaster.” Murchison serves up an idea of food intake for a hard training day or race and a recovery day: “A recovery day includes a smoothie for breakfast, chicken and veg broth for lunch and grilled salmon with fennel, dill and orange for dinner; a hard day is chocolate and peanut putter porridge for breakfast, poached eggs on toast for lunch, and chicken, broccoli and cauliflower pasta gratin for tea.”

18. MIMIC PATRICK

Reigning Kona champ Patrick Lange tilts his aerobar extensions so his wrists are significantly higher than his forearms.  don’t worry about a loss in aerodynamics. Angling the forearms reduces the lower-back angle as well as drawing in the shoulders – which are both effective drag-cutters. 


 
 

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