I have coached others to become better swimmers.
Then, there are those dear friends that have been infected with a love of open water and have decided that a triathlon would be a very good idea - seeing as they can run a bit and bike a bit and quite like a good challenge.
These people, in a few short weeks, will take on their first triathlon - different triathlons, of different distances.
As I have been coaching and chatting, I said that I would write a blog about it - about the things to remember, lessons I learned from my previous triathlons and bits of advice that were invaluable as I was going into my first one.
I don't claim to be an expert - these are some the things I could do to remember myself as silly season approaches. It will not be a complete list, everyone has their own routines and approaches.
I repeat, I do not profess to be an expert - nor do I profess to be fast.
Training and the weeks leading up to
- Do brick sessions. It will hurt and feel like your legs are made of wood or rubber when you get of the bike and begin to run. Practice it so you know you can keep moving.
- Train in the kit you will be wearing on race day. This might mean swimming with a sports bra under your trisuit while you go for an open water dip. Yes it will feel weird, but its worth knowing how it feels. Practice getting on the bike in a wet trisuit. Again, it feels different to a dry trisuit.
- Practice nutrition. It doesn't matter if you eat jam sandwiches on the bike, Bounty bars or energy gels. It doesn't matter if your tri is so short that you don't think you will need nutrition. Anything over an hour, feed yourself something. Half iron distance, aim for every 20/30 minutes once your on the bike whether it feels like you need it or not.
- Set up transition and PRACTICE (I am the biggest culprit ever for NOT doing this regardless of what I say to others). Every time I have come into transition, I have looked at my stuff and not known where to start. I have become incapable of processing and it takes me agggggggges. this is mainly due to me starting putting gloves on, then starting on socks before I have finished the task at hand. PLAN IT. PRACTICE IT. Practice taking of your wetsuit and getting ready for the bike. Go round the block on the bike, come home, change and getting ready for the run.
- Familiarise yourself with the race route, look at maps of transition so you have a rough idea of where swim in/bike out/bike in/run out is. There will be marshals on the day to help you, so don't get hung up on knowing this inside and out.
- Familiarise yourself with the start. Is it a mass start? Is it waves at regular intervals? Is it a deep water start? Is it a pool? Know your lane and start time.
- If you haven't done a mass/deep water start before, try book yourself into an event before the day so that you can experience what its like. This is especially important if you're not a strong swimmer or not as happy as you might be in open water.
- The washing machine effect of arms n legs everywhere, plus adrenaline, plus cold water, plus wetsuit can make it seem as through you can't breathe, to combat this, take a minute, breathe out more than you think you need to. Expel all the air in your lungs. Then take a relaxed breath in. If you take short jerky, irregular breaths that mimic hyperventilating, your body will think this is what's happening and speed the process up.
- If its an open water swim, I always recommend popping spare goggles inside the top of your wetsuit or up your leg - you never know what will happen on race day, you may need them or someone else. It could make all the difference.
- Trust your own abilities. You can swim. You know you can. You know that you've relaxed previously when you've been tense in the water. Give youself a mantra.
- Don't go too hard. Unless you're aiming to win (in which case it's very unlikely you will be reading my blog) you don't need to go all out. The swim is the warm up bit.
- Practice going from horizontal to vertical. Some people get easily dizzy. This can be combat with earplugs or seasickness tablets.
- As you get out of the lake/pond/dock/river in training, practice removing your wetsuit on the move. Start unzipping and removing the arms, rolling down to the waist REMEMBER TO PLACE YOUR WATCH UNDER YOUR WETSUIT SLEEVE. I tend to pop a gel in the top of my wetsuit so I can have it on the water on the water to T1. It's one less thing to worry about then.
- Remove wetsuit fully. If you have a Zone 3 wetsuit, it will remove easily. Other wetsuits have panels to help with removal, some don't. The ones that don't, it can help by cutting a small amount of neoprene from the ankle. This doesn't need to be a lot but will make the opening wider and the suit easier to remove.
- Personally, I find that putting my bike helmet over my bike shoes n other bits of kit, means that i put this on first n getting penalties for touching my bike without my lid stops being an issue.
- Know the order you will put your bike kit on. Did you opt to wear race belt under wetsuit? If not, pop that on making sure number is visible at the back. Are you wearing gloves? (I would never go without personally) Are you wearing arm warmers? Will your shoes be clipped to your bike? Are you wearing socks? If you are in trainers n normal pedals, do your trainers have elastic laces? This will save time.
- Run or walk with your bike to the mount line. There will be a marshall telling you when it is ok to mount your bike.
- WHEN RACKING, MAKE SURE YOUR BIKE IS IN A NICE EASY GEAR SO YOU CAN GET GOING.
- Get on n get settled. Find a rhythm. Smile!
- If you're doing a longer distance tri, start getting fuel inside you as soon as you can. I fuel every half hour. This works for me, some people find 20 minutes is needed. Do what works for you, but certainly make sure you fuel regularly.
- Know your nutrition strategy in advance. If you are using fuel provided at the feed stations, know what fuel they are giving, how often and test to make sure you can tolerate it. I find 'real food' or solids such as bars are better for the bike. I have known people rely on the fuel stations, only to find they only had water or had run out.
- TAKE SOME FUEL OF YOUR OWN! Do not rely on it being available.
- There will be drop zones for bottles and litter. Do not litter outside these zones. I know someone who was DQ'd from Ironman UK for spitting a piece of sandwich out that he was struggling to swallow. I kid you not.
- As you're approaching the end of the bike and T2, make sure you have had some fuel so you can get straight into the run.
- Prior to reaching the dismount line, knock your bike into an easier gear and give you legs a spin. This will help get them ready for the run.
- Dismount at the line as instructed by marshals, run or walk bike to rack. I suggest walking!!
- Change shoes (if using cleats), leave helmet, spin race belt round so number is at front, grab any extra fuel, exit T2 and head out on the run.
- Chances are, if it's your first triathlon, your legs will feel like rubber or lead. They will almost certainly feel as though they don't belong to you. If you have practiced bike to run brick sessions, this feeling will be reduced, if not.... Well, it could be interesting!!
- This is the part where mind of matter comes into it's own. Chances are you will want to walk. The second you give into this, it makes it ok to give into it again later.
- KEEP RUNNING AS LONG AS YOU CAN. It doesn't matter how slowly - but keep running if you can.
- Its very very OK to plan for a walk run strategy, this could be run 9 minutes, walk 1, run for 15, walk 3, run everything but walk the feed stations.
- Remember that everyone else will be hurting just as much as you are. The wibbly legs are part of the challenge!!
- If you're doing a longer triathlon, make sure you keep up with your fuelling strategy, being careful not to over hydrate.
- Keep smiling throughout n know that once you're on the run, very shortly, you will have completed you first (or another triathlon)
When you finish
- Bask in the glory of your awesomeness but only after you've got some recovery fuel and food inside you.
- Book your next race/event.
- Set your next goal.
I have a kit list I use which I'm happy to share with you and there are plenty floating about on the internet.
It's easy to be intimidated by all the fast bikes, compression, aero helmets n deep rimmed wheels when you first arrive at a triathlon.
Chances are though, there will be LOADS of people where it is there first or second outing or first outing at this location or distance.
They will be just as nervous and excited as you are.
Chat to them. They WILL help you.
It doesn't matter if your bike is a bit heavier than theirs or not an all singing all dancing road bike.
It is about the taking part.
It's about the smile on your face during and at the end n the will to give it a go.
It's worth knowing how to change a tyre and have practiced doing this so it's not a mad fluster of panic if it happens on race day.
Personally, I think it's worth knowing how to use a gas canister to inflate a new tyre, but if this all sounds very scary, don't worry about it.
For those that this blog is pitched at, I hope it helps.
Its not meant to be patronising in any way, its not meant to be a 'I'm an expert'.
Its meant to be a helpful tool for those who don't know what to expect.
Feed back and questions are always welcomed.