Race faster for free

Cash well-spent can sometimes help you achieve better race results, but the best things in triathlon are often free. Here's our guide…


Many seem to think that splashing out on good tri equipment will make you faster. Adverts and forums espouse the benefits of this run shoe and that aero wheel. Some such claims are irrefutable, some dubious, others outright lies. But if the engine’s under-par, then fast wetsuits, bikes and race flats won’t do an ounce of good. The way to go faster is to stack training, nutrition and technology in your favour.


Lose weight

If you’re overweight, dropping a few pounds could be your biggest-ever gain for zero outlay. We can’t all enjoy single-digit body fat percentages like pro-level triathletes, but men who can get theirs to around 14% and women to 20% will see big improvements on their bike and run splits. All for free. So if you’re a bit skint and you’re not aero and light, tweak your food intake to lose some fat and save on your shopping bills!

Nail the basics

Next on the cost-efficiency hit list is getting open-water savvy. The swim is the part of the race where you’re most likely to veer off course. So fine-tune your sighting and other open-water skills to avoid exceeding the specified race distance and wasting time.

Similarly, being able to pedal through junctions without braking (unless it’s crucial) is an easy way to pick up vital seconds, so practise your bike handling. Lots. These are not expensive solutions, but are often overlooked in favour of pricey ‘quick fixes’, which often don’t fix anything.

I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to treat yourself. Do so by all means, but use these treats as rewards for hard work. An equipment upgrade should only come after you’ve seen meaningful improvements in your performance.

Eat well, sleep well

As an athlete, carbs are your speed-food, with their turnover being much greater in fast sessions and races. Be sure not to run out of your favourite drink mix or gels as these really are the key to fuelling quality or long sessions.

Summer food choices tend to be less stodgy, but keep in mind that carbohydrates and quality protein sources are the food choice for recovery from every session. If you’re really spent or needing a stop-gap before you eat proper food, a recovery drink is excellent in-season targeted nutrition.

Another key factor is sleep. Training, races and tiring weeks can leave you drained. Add in some socialising, lighter nights and the need to do chores, and bedtime starts getting later and later. Occasional early nights and lie-ins can keep sleep quality up and make recovery from your hardest efforts much more rapid and consistent.

Ongoing investments

It can be hard to quantify the benefits exactly, but rest assured that you’ll see significant benefits from continued swim coaching, bike servicing and body work, such as massage and physio.

Sexy deep-rim wheels will save you about 1-1.5mins over 40km, but the ‘boring’ things such as getting your body in good working order are priceless. Never, but never, miss the basics in favour of the bling.

Four ways to get faster without splashing any cash

1. Weight loss

The fast are lean. Running is influenced by mass – bike courses aren’t flat and swimming requires you to push water out of the way. Need we say more than, “Watch the scales… closely?”

2. Before the race

Taper properly, reducing your training volume while maintaining efforts to stay sharp. Ensure race equipment is tried and tested, and have contingency plans for weather changes and emergencies.

3. Borrowing bling

Tapping up a friend for their flash wheels or fast wetsuit is a great way to try before you buy. And it won’t cost you a penny… unless you buy them a ‘thank you’ subscription to 220, of course.

4. Recce and warm-up

Knowing the details of the race route well in advance is free speed. Have a pre-race warm-up on your turbo trainer (15-20mins), jog, do specific upper body warm-ups and a swim, if possible.


For lots more wallet-friendly performance advice head to our Training section