With triathlon, as with everything, you have to master the fundamentals before you get going. Here’s the springboard to setting you on the road to multisport mastery...
Pt 1/5: Training and Racing
1 BUILD BASE ON THE BIKE
Any training programme should start with a solid foundation. Building that foundation on the run can spell disaster in the form of overuse injuries, like stress fractures and plantar fasciitis (inflammation of tissue on the bottom of the foot), but doing so on the bike will set you up nicely for an injury-free season. Keep your runs short as you get started, but try to include at least one long, easy ride each week that’s at least twice the distance of the cycling leg in your goal race (so at least 40km if you’re training for a sprint triathlon).
2 SWIM LESS, MORE OFTEN
Few other sports are as dependent on feel and technique as swimming. Instead of doing one or two longer swim sessions each week, break it up into three or four shorter swims so that you become aware of your body position and make small tweaks during each workout.
3 HIGHER CADENCE = HAPPIER LEGS
Maintaining a high cadence on the bike is one of the single best habits you can develop as a new triathlete. Not only will it ensure that your legs are stronger for the run, but it’ll also help you run at a higher, more efficient stride rate. Most top triathletes ride in the 80-100rpm range, so aim for 90rpm and make minor changes from there, based on what feels natural for you.
4 IMPROVE ALL THREE SPORTS AT ONCE
There’s only one kind of workout you can do that makes you a better swimmer, biker and runner at the same time – and that’s any workout that improves core strength. Improve abdominal strength by doing exercises, such as leg lifts and crunches, but don’t forget about your lower back, which undergoes a lot of stress during all three sports. Try adding a few sets of back extensions and planks to your strength training routine. And be sure to stretch your lower back after workouts – especially after cycling.
5 EMBRACE THE UNKNOWN
In all likelihood, your first triathlon will feel anything but natural. No-one is genetically predisposed to swimming, biking and running in succession at high intensities – it can take years to develop the muscle memory to make a race feel truly comfortable. Until you get to that point, embrace the race experience as an opportunity to go outside your comfort zone. Expect to push yourself a little harder than you do in training, meaning the transitions between sports might be uncomfortable. But it’s all part of the learning process.
6 LEARN TO NEGATIVE SPLIT
The excitement of a race makes it easy to go out too hard on each of the three disciplines. Try to stay within your comfort zone for the first half of each sport, so that you can gradually build your pace throughout the second half and finish strong. This can be especially beneficial for the swim, where sprinting from the gun can leave you winded and gasping for air before you reach the first turn buoy.
7 NO BAD DAYS
You may frequently hear experienced triathletes talk about having a ‘bad’ race but, in reality, there’s no such thing as a bad race as long as you learn something for next time. Becoming a triathlete is a never-ending learning process; each race offers the opportunity to find something we can do better. Take some time after each event to reflect on the whole race and to find areas where you know you can put in more effort – then practise, practise, practise.
8 UPGRADE YOUR RIDE FROM THE GROUND UP
If you feel like your gear is holding you back and you’re ready to upgrade, start with your wheels first. No other purchase you can make will yield as much bang for your buck as a nice set of deep-section, carbon-fibre wheels (turn to p141 for our Race Wheels grouptest). A ‘slow’ bike with fast wheels is better than a ‘fast’ bike with slow wheels, after all.
9 POSITION FIRST, FRAME SECOND
When upgrading your bike frame, think first and foremost about your position. Your body creates 80% of frontal drag while you ride, with only 20% coming from your bike. Even the most wind-tunnel-tested bike on Earth will only help you so much if you can’t ride it in an efficient, aerodynamic position. Cyclefit, Retul and Bike Science are three bike-fit specialists (issue 264’s Bike Fit special has more).
“Increasing your kick speed at the end of the swim and ensuring you’re in a low gear when exiting T1 will help you make a smoother – and less painful – transition from swim to bike.”
Holding the aero position on the bike requires a strong core. Here are four mid-section muscle moves to improve your bike leg…
1. SWISS-BALL ROLL-OUTS
Forearms on the ball, knees on the floor. Slowly roll the ball out using your forearms, keeping a straight torso. Stop when you start to shake and slowly roll the ball back.
2. GLUTE BRIDGE
Straight line from your shoulders (on the floor) to your feet (on the ball). Gently lower your bottom towards the floor, then squeeze your glutes to slowly lift your hips back up.
3. KNEE TOUCHES
With your toes on the floor and your forearms on the ball, lift and drive one knee at a time forward until it touches the ball. Keep a straight line between your shoulders and your ankles at all times.
4. SWISS-BALL WALK-OUTS
Starting in a press-up position with your knees on the Swiss ball, slowly walk your hands forward until your feet are resting on the ball. Then slowly walk back to the starting position.