They say don’t sweat the small stuff, that is until your goggles get knocked off at the first turn, you spend an eternity in T2 fighting with your shoelaces and your run goes from port-a-loo to port-a-loo wishing you had tested that new energy gel pre-race. When it comes to preparation for triathlon racing the old adage of ‘worry about the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’ is far more apt. By paying the right amount of attention to the small things you can gain free time in transition and enhance your performance. The small changes you make as you refine your preparation, or approach problems through a different mind set, can bring about tremendous improvements in your overall time. With this in mind we bring you ten of our favourite triathlon tips that you should consider for the next time you toe the start line.
Body glide (or a similar anti chafing product), chamois cream and Fixomull are you best friends, use them! Body glide can be applied to sensitive or high movement areas like between your thighs or under your arms. Don’t forget to apply it around your ankle where your timing chip will rub. Chamois cream will prevent saddle sores by minimising friction (most are also antibacterial). Fixomull is great for problem areas with less body movement, usually caused by clothing parts such as seams, zippers or the neck of your wet suit. It also protects against nipple chafing. The hypoallergenic tape adheres reliably and the soft backing material conforms to body contours.
Arrive at the race venue with plenty of time to register, set up in transition (find a toilet) and warm up. There is nothing worse than being rushed, flustered and searching for the nearest port-a-loo amidst pre-race jitters with just moments until the starting gun sounds. You are more likely to enjoy your race experience if you begin feeling prepared.
Turn on your GPS watch when you arrive at the start line to allow time to acquire satellites. You can turn your GPS off once connected to save battery life before the race, it will quickly reconnect to the last place in its memory. If you have travelled, even just a few suburbs over to the race, acquiring satellites when first turning your watch on can take some time especially with older watches. The starting gun won’t wait for you to connect.
Many triathlons will involve a barefoot run on a sandy beach or across grass in order to reach your bike in T1. Although half and full Iron distance races usually include a shower, shorter races will not. While your towel can wipe much of the debris off, to prevent chafing or blistering, place a spare squirt style water bottle next to your towel in transition. This can be used to clean your feet, wash the saltwater from your face and rinse the salty taste from your mouth. It also means you won’t waste the precious water from your bike.
The easiest way to reduce your race time is to have an efficient transition. Small things like having your bike in an easy gear, ensuring your cycling shoes are open, or your running shoe laces are untied, will make for a smoother transition. For an even faster T2, swap over to elastic laces to slip straight into your runners. These also allow for better blood flow when your feet swell towards the end of the run and help to prevent numb feet.
In line with an efficient transition, place your towel next to your gear in transition. I see many people neatly lay out their gear on top of their towel, only to have it be the first thing they grab out of the water making a mess of their well organised transition. When you set up in transition place your gear in the order you will need it - running gear behind cycling gear, towel on top. If there is a forecast for rain, a disposable shower cap placed over your cycling and running shoes will mean you start out with dry shoes.
There is no denying it, the start of a swim can be brutal. This is especially true in beginner races where athletes have not yet learned how to avoid each other. Place yourself at the side of the starting pack so you can give yourself room. You will do better by swimming beside the pack than getting caught in the washing machine of fists and feet in the pack. Just in case you can’t avoid the stray swimmer, put your goggles on first and pull your cap over the straps. This strategy will protect you from any stray hands accidentally pulling off your goggles during the race. Also make sure the Velcro on your timing chip is well fixed so it is not pulled/knocked off and lost.
Swimming wide of the group at the start is a great way to avoid the unnerving frenzy, but by the first turning can most of the pack will be spread out - this is when swimming efficiently is key. If it is allowed, do your swim warm up from the swim finish to the final turning can. On the return, take note of what to sight on the beach for the straightest path into T1. While you are waiting for your wave start, watch how the tide is impacting other swimmers and account for this in your planned path. Note landmarks that will be easy to see while in the water, swim buoys are not always clearly visible while distinctive trees or buildings are easy to spot. To ensure clear visibility, a little spit rubbed on the inside of your goggles will prevent fogging. Remember that you are faster swimming than you are running through neck deep water. Avoid the temptation to stand as soon as you think you can see the bottom. Wait until your fingers touch the sand at the end of the swim before standing for the most efficient swim finish.
Nearly every race I see athletes standing helplessly on the side of the bike leg with a flat tyre. Either they didn’t bring spare tubes and CO2 canisters, or they have no idea how to change a flat. Many races consider outside assistance a disqualifying offence, so bring the gear and know how to use it! Practice at home by letting the air out of your tyre. CO2 is not that expensive, so sacrifice a couple of canisters to make sure you know how to inflate your tube when it matters.
You will hear this advice from everyone, but you will likely ignore it at least once before you learn - don’t do ANYTHING new on race day. Everything mentioned above should be practised. Don’t try a new food, new drink, new cream, new gear, new running style… practice everything before the race or don’t do/use it! 10km into the bike leg is a bad time to discover you are allergic to the new chamois cream your mate recommended!
You will find that your most memorable race successes or failures will usually come down to the small details that you either paid attention to, or failed to acknowledge. Only once will you forget to wash your feet properly; the painful blisters and time it cost you on the run will be etched into your mind for future races. Ultimately you will have put a lot into your training, we don’t want the limiting factor to your performance to be a small item that was hiding in plain site.
Over the course of the coming months we will publish more hints and tips to help you maximise and enhance the hard work that you do day in and day out to make you the best athletic version of yourself. If you have any additional tips email us and we will include your tip and acknowledge you in this blog.
By Brena Hunter