Nine tips to improve your triathlon times this race season

We help you turn training fitness into race-day performance by considering prep, rest, focus and more


Now’s the time to be planning those triathlons that you want to be your ‘Best Days Out’. You train to race, but you also have to be truly race-ready.


The winter base has been low-stress and you’ve built in the pre-competition key sessions, but it’s racing itself that’s the key to racing better next time out and so on. Those shy of racing won’t sharpen their teeth enough for the big tests.

Going on perceived fitness is fine, but sometimes that’s a bit too relaxed, with the scenarios very much under your control. Racing is about factors being imposed upon you, requiring you to use everything in your armoury to beat the competition. This means making race scenarios up and ensuring the specifics are practised, perfected and planned carefully for the big day.

The fittest person doesn’t always come out on top, but a better-equipped competitor who does everything right with their training, nutrition and equipment can inch ahead with those so-called marginal gains. Most triathletes, if realistic, can actually estimate their peak-day to off-day splits pretty well before they race.

There are swim currents, transition length, weather changes and course differences to take into account, but tail-end Charlies don’t actually jump to the top 10 percentile out of the blue. So if you’re going to maximise your big race, it’s time to get those best practices for race day sorted. Here are my nine top tips to ensure a faster race season…

Forewarned is forearmed

You know some of the race details, but it pays to be even better prepared. Use Google Maps street view, race videos and MetOffice weather predictions nearer the time.

>>> Plan your first race: our ultimate beginner’s guide

Friends who have raced the course before or online resources like can give you insights, such as likely wetsuit bans, water temperature, wheel-and-tyre selection, and run shoes to maximise traction and comfort on the course.

Hard stuff

Let’s not beat around the bush here: some tough intervals make any racer a better racer. At close to 90% of max heart rate and for 20-30mins for a dose of speed is enough.

>>> The lowdown on fartlek

For many, once or twice a week is enough, varying the sport you most want to rev up. Effective sessions in each discipline are: 6 x 5 mins or 4 x 8 mins with recovery as you feel (2-5mins).

Be rested

Recovering from ‘hard stuff’ (tip 2), from races and some long sessions means you have to be expert at easing off for several days per week.

>>> Chrissie Wellington on… The importance of rest days

Using good sleep patterns, sports massage (and other body work) to allow recovery is often missing in those too keen to be better. Top athletes sleep loads as sleep equals recovery. As does plenty of carbs, high-quality protein sources and nutrient-dense foods.

Nail transition training

If you work at getting out of your wetsuit, changing into an aero helmet, mounting and dismounting your bike, running with your bike and putting running shoes on… guess what? You become a faster triathlete.

>>> Two triathlon transition drills to practise for race season

Fitness must go hand in hand with skills like these. Even simple visualisation during a non-physical training session, to picture race-day movement patterns, can help you look and be more efficient.

Plan and test

Race-day pacing isn’t ‘flat-out and then keep going’. Nutrition strategy plans are not ‘let’s just see how it goes’.

Before race day, aim to gauge your swim, bike and run efforts so you can race at your best – and that means keeping below the speed where you fight yourself to move forward.

Similarly, nutrition for race morning, during warm-up and throughout the race must all be planned and tweaked before the day.

Taper to leave the best for race day

I’m not suggesting that, whatever the race distance, you go into a one-week couch potato mode and just eat.

>>> Master the taper

Stick to the tried-and-tested ‘best known methods’: carbo loading for 3-5 days; beetroot juice loading (500ml for 6 days); drop in fibre for some tapers/dropping the excessive beer for others; maybe a massage three days before or ensuring a good night’s sleep three nights before.

Drop faff, save energy

This is that missing 3% that many fail to control – or perhaps it’s outside of their control. It’s never possible to put the world on hold (even for pros), but the more you ignore irrelevant details the quieter your mindset will be and the greater energy you’ll have to race your best.

With 2-4 days to go, drop the social media, rein in the global news worries, do bike checks and have some proper quiet time by yourself.

Race morning warm-up

However you best get race-focussed and warmed up, you need to keep this on-plan. You can’t start from cold. Yet few get this organised, or think it’s ‘taking it a bit seriously’.

>>> A triathlete’s guide to warming up

You may like rollers, stretch cords and a caffeine boost, or you could cycle to the race venue by parking slightly further away. The best practice is to warm up, stay warm and be ready when the guns goes off.

Swim smart

One thing you can control before the gun goes off is the swim plan. Think about your start position, especially if you’re still a nervous swimmer.

>>> Six pros share their swim secrets

You might use things like current direction, drafting a swimmer that you already know is your ideal pacer or work out a great sighting point, so you don’t waste energy going way off course.

Once in the groove, the rest of your race plan is about to be tested – race with courage!

(All images: Jonny Gawler)


For lots more performance advice head to our Training section