If April is apparently the cruellest month (maybe T.S. Eliot was thinking about that fallow period between the end of the duathlon season and start of the tri calendar), then September is our favourite month for triathlon racing in the UK.
There’s that softer bucolic light, the warm – but not too warm – autumnal sunshine and some truly classic races to end your season on a flyer. We’re looking at you Hever and Helvellyn, Ironman Wales and 70.3 Weymouth, the Brutal, Outlaw X, Aviemore and, well, many more.
And there’s also the satisfying feeling of a plan coming together, the joining of the dots that started months ago and are now uniting for some end-of-season fireworks.
That’s the plan at least, but are there surefire ways to hit that late-season A-race fit and firing? How do you avoid injury and shake-off the summer holiday slumber?
And what race-day tactics and tricks can see you performing a PB-smashing final flourish? Here are our favourite 15 ways to end the season on a high…
1. Stay seated
After the relatively low-key August period, September brings some major thrills back to the UK tri season. It also brings the hills, as anyone looking at the Veloviewer profiles of Ironman Wales, The Brutal and Helvellyn will tell you (the undulations of the Weymouth and Hever bike courses aren’t to be underestimated either).
So how should you tackle the second-discipline climbs? By staying seated, says aero luminary Dan Bigham.
“When you’re out of the saddle, your co-efficient of drag (CdA) goes up. If this is really steep, it’s not too much of an aero issue as speeds are slower and you can generate more power by engaging other muscle groups like your arms.
“But on longer, shallower drags, there’s an aerodynamic case for remaining seated. Many riders are significantly more efficient biomechanically and physiologically in a seated position, too.”
2. Find a pre-race race
If you’re slightly race rusty and haven’t donned your tri-suit for months, how about sneaking in a single-discipline dress rehearsal before your multisport A-race?
This can be a 2km open-water event on the swim, or perhaps a time-trial or a cyclo-cross event on the bike.
As for third discipline thrills, hit your local parkrun, which is a perfect 5km test to gauge your progress. Practise your race-morning routine and favourite breakfast (peanut butter bagels, right?), how you deal with pre-race nerves, try out your race-day kit and give it everything.
Well, almost everything. Breaking yourself isn’t part of the masterplan.
3. Push for a PB
If you’re not quite hitting the training heights and an overall PB is out of the equation in the autumn (darn you, halloumi fries!), an alternative can be to focus on a PB in one of triathlon’s three (four if you count transition) disciplines.
Without neglecting the other disciplines, spend your build-up focussing on that key goal – i.e. a 40km bike split PB.
Adjust your action plan accordingly, increasing your emphasis on bike speed sessions, swapping Stranger Things for turbo sets and practising becoming as aerodynamic – yet as comfortable – as possible.
4. Score easy aero wins
“To ride really fast, you must reduce your frontal area,” says John Morgan of cycling-coach.co.uk. “Spend more time on the drops and tuck your head in. And think like a turtle. Shrug your shoulders and bring your head down and in, always keeping your eyes on the horizon.”
Our own wind tunnel analysis at the Silverstone Sports Engineering Hub backs up Morgan’s advice, producing a 60sec time advantage over 40km when riding in the drops instead of on the hoods when riding at 25km/h and a yaw (effective wind) angle of 5°.
And if you’re using aerobars? Tilt them slightly up, says Koen Pelgrim of Deceuninck-Quick-Step.
“Our work shows that when bars are too low, the rider often compensates by sitting higher. In contrast, by tilting bar extensions up a little, the rider’s head and back drops. This is more aerodynamic, especially if you’re wearing an aero helmet, as the tail flows more smoothly into the back.”
5. Do some retail therapy
Treating yourself to some triathlon retail therapy can put a spring in your step ahead of your September A-race.
It doesn’t have to be outlandish and I’m not saying buy a new Canyon Speedmax tri bike or a set of Enve deep-rim race wheels (but don’t let me stop you), but a new running visor, a different flavour of Torq energy gels (well hello, banoffee), running socks or bar tape can give you a dual mental and performance boost.
Just remember to use your shiny new kit or nutrition ahead of the big day.
6. Prepare for all conditions
September is regularly a mighty month to race in. Ask anyone who is still drying out and/or defrosting from Ironman Wales in 2017, 70.3 Weymouth in 2018 or the Outlaw X in 2020, however, and they’ll tell you that it can be brutal out there.
So pack your kit bag accordingly, adding both hard- and softshell bike jackets and a gilet for protection from the rain or chills, full finger bike gloves as well as mitts, a robe for staying toasty in pre-race transition, and arm and leg warmers for the bike leg.
A flask of tea isn’t such a bad idea either.
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7. Arrive early
Tenby, Weymouth, Hever… all major races, all involving some closing of roads and thousands of triathletes descending on car parks and transition areas for race starts soon after dawn.
Put simply, getting to the race HQ in plenty of time can have a major positive impact on your big race.
I’ve personally experienced plenty of squeaky bum-time journeys sat in pre-race jams, including running with my bike through the traffic ahead of Hever and sleeping through an alarm before Weymouth.
The result were fraught transition set-ups, missing out on some quality portable toilet time, and arriving at the startlines mentally frazzled.
And if you do find yourself with plenty of time pre-race? Have a coffee, check your tyre pressures, lube your chain, hit the toilets before the queues (and poos) arrive…. And visualise that PB-smashing run you’re about to produce, of course…
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8. Sight for success
“All elite athletes engage in mental imagery,” says Ian Robertson, the professor of psychology at Trinity College in Dublin. “They visualise themselves working through the course, hearing the sounds, and their specific routines.
“The more accurately your mental-imagery processes correspond with the actual timing and action in real-time, the better your performance.”
So take 10mins a day to sit in a quiet space and visualise yourself smashing the swim, beasting the bike and romping the run.
9. Recce the race
Many of the UK races in September – see the Brutal, Outlaw X, Tenby and Weymouth – require triathletes to register and/or attend a race briefing in the days before the race. Use this time to familiarise yourself with transition, the entries and exits, and the route to the swim start.
Aim to find the time to drive the bike course as well, analysing where the climbs come, any tricky corners and descents, where to refuel and any junctions that may be a problem on non-closed roads races.
I’ve also done this remotely on Google Maps, which doesn’t compete with the real thing, but will give you a gauge on the course’s topography.
10. Brighten the corners
Navigating the twists and turns of a triathlon bike course is a critical road skill for both safety and performance.
“Always brake before the corner so you enter at the right speed,” states Jason Streather of PDQ Cycle Coaching.
“Aim for a smooth line, starting from the outer side of the entry point, hug the apex (inside) of the corner, then hit the exit point on the far side. Keep looking at the exit as your bike will go where you’re looking.”
Also keep your inner pedal up and outer one locked down with your weight on it for added stability.
11. Ace your pace
“Aim to do your last major ride around 10-14 days before the event to allow for a training effect,” says Heidi Blunden of Parallel Cycle Coaching.
“Try to replicate the course profile with similar roads and elevation. Endurance riding requires good planning and prep in addition to good fitness.
“Your longest training ride should be an opportunity to do a ‘dry run’ using the same equipment, nutrition and hydration so you can resolve any issues before the big day.
“And remember that it’s easy to start your ride too quickly and pay for it later. Using cadence and average speed can help to maintain awareness. Free speed gains can also be made with a clean bike, lubed chain and correct tyre pressures – they all add up!”
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12. Build those bricks
The multi-discipline brick is the ultimate triathlon session. Neglect it at your peril. And this brick throws in a race-pace feeling with a high-intensity bike/run combo. This can be done outside, on the turbo or in the gym.
Start with a 6min bike that has 30secs to build pace, 5mins hard effort, before 30secs to slow down. Then follow this with a 3min run that’s simulating the run out of transition.
Take 1min full recovery after the run. Complete 3-4 sets. You can use your intended race-day bike and run shoes to maximise that tri-day feeling.
13. Draft for success
Drafting on the bike is usually outlawed and the gains on the run are negligible, but you’ll certainly feel the slipstream benefits on the swim.
“At the swim start, find some swimmers that look quicker than you and start next to them with the aim of getting on their feet,” says top UK pro Joe Skipper. “They’ll probably drag you round to a faster swim split for less effort!”
14. Become a downhill demon
The climbs of Saundersfoot, the Struggle and Snowdonia might be giving UK triathletes sleepless nights currently, but don’t neglect the importance of the descents on the other side.
“Lightly feather both brakes to regulate your speed – although the front brake will always be more powerful,” says cycling writer Mark Bailey.
“But on speedy descents, focus on your front brake and shift your weight back, to avoid your rear wheel slipping. Hitting the drops will also lower your centre of gravity and improve your balance.”
15. Hit YouTube!
Take some time before your big race to hit YouTube. Not for some videos of skateboarding bulldogs or Bob Mortimer’s Train Guy (as much as they have their place), but to stoke your love of the triathlon racing amphitheatre.
Check out Bevan Docherty’s super-human sprint at the 2005 New Plymouth ITU World Cup race, Nicola Spirig winning the 2012 Olympic gold by milliseconds, Bailey Matthews ditching his walker at the Castle Howard Tri in 2015 and feel your motivation rise.
Likewise, an up-tempo new playlist for those turbo sets could be the reason you need to revive your indoor cycling. Just leave Leonard Cohen’s greatest hits for another time…
Top image credit: Getty Images