How to build the ultimate triathlete
Which sporting background brings the best chance of triathlon success? We compare swim, bike, run and team sports to find out
“Whoever finishes first, we call him the Ironman.” The immortal words of naval officer John Collins during an awards banquet for the Waikiki Swim Club in 1977. Collins and his wife, Judy, wanted to settle the age-old argument of who were the toughest athletes – swimmers, cyclists or runners?
On 18 February 1978, 15 competitors, including Collins, came to the shores of Waikiki to take on the inaugural Ironman challenge. The first winner, Gordon Haller, trained in all three disciplines but never raced them back-to-back and certainly skewed his training to the run. “I ran 100 miles in the build-up week to Hawaii,” the American has said since.
To this day, age-group triathletes contend that their sporting background created the strongest foundation for future triathlon success. A strong swim can have you exiting the water before your competitors reach the halfway buoy; cruising in the aero position past a disjointed cyclist is always a satisfying experience, both performance-wise and for the ego; it’s a feeling eclipsed by running through the competition who whizzed past you on their five-grand Cervélos.
Over the next five pages, we examine the performance, physiological, psychological and cultural pros and cons of entering multisport from either swimming, biking or running. We also investigate how team sports like football and rugby can positively (or not) impact on your subsequent triathlon career.
We’ve looked at the elite, age-groupers and Ironman athletes, who have different issues but are united by one common goal – to race fast. We’ve also had our stats team corroborate the anecdotal and the science. It was beyond the scope of this piece to analyse the background of every age-grouper in the UK, so we chose the leading age-groupers of the 2014 Windsor Triathlon as a representative example.
Time then, to start our analysis, beginning with the broad shoulders of swimmers…
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