This is a brief guide to help with the various parts of the triathlon world that some people aren’t aware of and maybe to give a few helpful tips to the ones who have no idea what to expect on the day. I shall start right at the beginning and try to make it flow through to the end with a few bits added here and there.
Title might seem a bit harsh as we are all numpties at the beginning but that’s the phrase and you are stuck with it, sorry.
I have split the guide into 5 sections and then a summary, why 5? Well most people think of a triathlon as 3 disciplines but you would be mistaken, there are 5.……
This is certainly not a minimum kit list or an exhaustive list, however, I have added an asterisk to the stuff you really can’t do without.
Swim Cap – This is provided on the day and you must leave it by the pool when you get out.
Towel – this will be left by your bike, more on this later.
BIKE ! *
Cycling shorts/tri shorts *
Bike Shoes/Trainers * (with elastic laces – more on this later)
Cycling top/Running top *
Water Bottles *
Spare inner tube *
Race Belt – this is something else you should buy, very cheap and available all over the internet, its an elastic strap that you put around your waist, it has your race number pinned to it, it means that when you get on the bike the race number will be at your back and when you come in to do the run you just swing it round so that its facing forwards, saves having to pin 2 numbers to a t-shirt and hope it doesn’t come off, remember if your number comes off, you have to re pin it, using a race belt saves that.
Shorts – probably the same ones you wore on the bike *
Before the event the information can be a little bit of an overload, basically they ask you lots of questions regarding your fitness for the event, can you swim 400m, can you bike 20k and can you run 5km.
What they actually mean is, will we have to drag you kicking and screaming from the pool after 30 mins as the next wave is due to start, or if you have just removed the stabilisers on your bike will you be a danger to the other road users, and finally, will we still be waiting for you to finish the run at 9pm as some of us want to go home.
Before the day, just make sure you can complete the distances individually and you should be fine, the idea is to have fun.
The only qualifying question you may get asked is your estimated time for the swim, the way the swim normally works is you go off in (*)waves of 5 or so at a time, through the day they seed the slower swimmers in the earlier waves and the faster guys towards the back end of the day. So if you are feeling brave and fancy putting 6 mins down for your 16 lengths, you may get a lie in but you may still be in the pool on your own long after the rest of your wave has got on the bike, just be sensible about your estimates.
As a guide, the top guys will probably be around 5 mins and the slower end up to 20-25.
(*)wave = a number of competitors that are set off at the same time either in a pool lane swim or an open water mass start.
Most of the info I have written below will be useful for the guys doing the whole triathlon, however the teams are just as important and even though you can use the same info here is a few tips just for the teams’ members who might only be doing one part.
Make sure the whole team know who they are handing over from, the bikers and runners will be pens and there will be a lot of people milling around waiting for their person.
Try to have some idea of how long your other team members are going to take for their event, you don’t want to have to be waiting in the runners pen for 40 mins waiting for your cyclist to finish but you also don’t want to be at the burger van getting a double whopper and coffee when they come in looking for you !
If the cyclist is allowed to wait for the swimmer with a helmet/cycling shoes on you might as well be fully dressed when you get tagged and you can just grab your bike and go. Likewise, when the cyclist comes in, forget about everything except racking your bike and just tagging your runner before you take your helmet off.
Commonly known as T1 and T2, this is where you ‘transition’ from the pool to your bike and then after the bike, how you get from bike to run. This is an area people don’t really think too much about but it can be the most complex area if you haven’t done your homework on race day, it is also the area that you can lose the most time, here are a few tips.
Most triathlons, T1 and T2 are in the same place and Duston is certainly that, some are split into 2 areas normally for logistical reasons but we won’t go into that for this one.
When you first arrive you will set up your area, you will be directed to a one foot section of racking that will probably have your number stuck somewhere to it, this is your area to put all of your kit that you don’t need for the pool but will need the second you finish the swim.
This is what a transition area can look like, check out the layout of where you put your kit, each person will have a certain amount of space, lay out your kit to your own needs, each person does it differently, if you are not sure, copy the person next to you
This is how you will hang your bike on the rail, make sure you can lift it off easily.
This is your transition layout, make sure you can get to everything easily.
T1 – Swim to Bike. When you set up your own transition you should go to where your bike is to be racked and check the entrance and exit for the race, you will enter from the pool through one fence and leave with your bike out of another. Once you have racked your bike, check the entrance you will come in from the swim, work out how you will get from there to your bike, go and stand by the entrance and spot your bike, check your route. Then make sure you have everything you need set out ready to put on.
Think about what you are going to do when you run to your bike, there is an order to making it slick and fast, the most efficient way is below ……
Helmet – have the strap undone ready to put on – REMEMBER, YOU MUST FASTEN YOUR HELMET BEFORE YOU TOUCH YOUR BIKE, IT’S A RULE, put it on, fasten it first.
Race belt – either step into it or clip it on, number facing to the rear.
Socks – coat the inside with talc and just before you put them on flick the excess out, this will coat the inside helping them slip on over wet feet.
Trainers – use elastic laces with lace locks, slip on. If you are wearing bike shoes, put these on and make sure they are secure before setting off.
Nutrition, make sure if you are taking any with you it’s in your pocket or on the bike before you leave.
Un hook your bike and without riding it, push it to the bike exit (which you checked out before) get all the way to mount line (this will be pointed out) and then taking your time get on and off you go.
SO looking at this set your transition up accordingly so you can get to each part in order, I have attached a picture showing how I would set my transition up next to the bike.
T2 – Bike to Run. Preparing your body to get off a bike and run is not the easiest thing for new triathletes but you can practise this in training.
During the race, about 400m before you get off the bike stop pushing such a hard gear and spin the legs out a bit, get out of the saddle and stretch out your back which would have been hunched over the bars. Most people experience tight backs and numb feet when you go from bike to run, these 2 things can help to alleviate this.
As you approach transition you will have to get off at the dismount line, try to make it as uneventful as possible then pushing your bike make your way back to your bike racking point (which you checked at the beginning)
REMEMBER, YOU MUST NOT UNFASTEN YOUR HELMET UNTIL YOU HAVE RACKED YOUR BIKE. Once you have racked your bike you are ready to undress.
Unclip your helmet, fling it if you please, it’s yours but try not to leave it in anyone’s way.
Twist your race belt all the way round so your number is now facing forward and you are ready to go, easy.
If you are wearing bike shoes for the bike leg, try to remember to put your trainers on !
Keyword – Rhythm
The swim can be a daunting start – you will normally have already racked your bike and sorted out your transition area and are now ready to race.
You have to be at the pool 10 minutes before your time so don’t be late. A little bit of etiquette with regards to the swim, if someone taps your feet in your lane they are probably a little faster than you, if they haven’t just tried to overtake you down the middle of the lane, when you get to the pool wall, just pause for a sec or two to let them through, it reduces the stress for both of you.
The pool area will have 5 lanes and at your set start time you will be asked to get into the pool, when you are asked to start its just a case of doing 16 laps as quickly as possible, don’t worry about anyone else and don’t worry about the spectators, if anything, they are probably admiring you for being the ones in the pool.
When you finish, climb out, take your swim cap off and make it to the exit to run to your bike.
What to wear ? You want to save as much time as you can by changing as little clothing as you can, this is achieved by deciding from the start what you are going to wear for the swim, bike and run.
Ladies, obvious, full cover, maybe tri shorts and a tri singlet, or cycling shorts and a t-shirt, a lot of questions are asked about bras, your wear as much support as you need, that means if you are well endowed you wear a full support bra under your top, it will dry out pretty sharpish on the bike, less top heavy, some girls get away with just a skin singlet, personal preference.
Guys, you are better off using tri shorts from the start, these are the same as cycling shorts but don’t have the huge chamois in the seat area, it means for the relatively short bike you will have some padding but you won’t have to change for the run as it won’t impede you for the 5km either. If you have a tri top you can wear it in the swim and no need to have to pull dry clothes on over a wet torso. For those that want to cycle and run in a dry t-shirt just make sure its not massive baggy as one it will be impossible to get on after the swim, and secondly you don’t want to look like a para glider on the bike with a great big parachute out the back slowing you down.
Basic training Swimming is one of the easiest sports to train for as you can go and do the distance quite easily to practise and not worry about getting injured. 400 metres doesn’t sound a long way but if you have never swum more than a few lengths its best to at least work out how you are going to feel after 16 of them.
Getting in the pool once or twice a week for the few months leading up to the race is a good idea and will certainly help on the day, and don’t worry if you can’t front crawl, there will be plenty of people doing breast stroke, just one thing, they don’t normally appreciate people doing backstroke so try to refrain from rolling over onto your back, you might find yourself harpooned and rescued from the deep end.
Keyword – Power
Depending on how serious you are taking this will depend on whether you have a mountain bike, racing bike, cycle shoes or trainers, so lets take it bit by bit.
Mountain bikes - there will be plenty of people on MTB’s, that’s how to encourage most beginners to enter, no need to run out and spend £100’s on a racing bike, just invest in some slick tyres for the road, get your local bike shop to change them over, buy a couple of spare inner tubes, pump and tyre levers in case you need to change a flat and you are ready.
Racing bikes - better position, more aerodynamic but you still have to know how to ride one, its amazing how knackered you can feel after 12 miles on a bike, don’t under estimate it, get a speedo fitted and go out and practise, you might even bump into another pirate doing secret training.
At the end of the day, it’s a bike ride, we all know how to ride a bike, the only difference is that at the end of this one you have to get off and run, my advice, go and try it a few times, officially its called ‘brick’ training but most just know the sensation as jelly legs, trying to run after biking just isn’t natural, try it, it’s a practised art, you might just thank yourself on the day.
Trainers v’s cycling shoes, for your first time you will probably be wearing the same trainers for the bike ride as you will for the run, however if you decide to use cycling shoes make sure you can run across the transition in them as the bike rack to mount line could be a good 200metres.
TIP - If you are planning to bike and run in trainers go out and buy some elastic lace locks, they replace your normal laces and during an event, instead of having to tie your shoes, you just slip them on, 5 secs, job done. My only bit of training advice is go and cycle round the course, if you can learn where the hills are and the turns are there will be no surprises on the day and you may knock minutes off.
Keyword – Patience
If you have done the prep in the first 2 sections this bit should be easy, you already have everything on that you are wearing for the run when you get off the bike, trainers are still on, tri shorts are still working, t shirt is still flapping. Turn the race belt around that you have been wearing for the bike and off you go.
5km isn’t far for an experienced runner but its still 3 miles further than some have ever done ! Try to enjoy the day and make sure you thank the marshalls, you might be in pain but they have been there all day not being paid trying to encourage you, give some back.
Another overlooked part of triathlon. The race is going to take you anything from just over the hour for the leaders to nearly 2. Your body can probably cope with the whole experience without muich more than water but it won’t be pretty.
There are a lot of products on the market to help you in triathlon and a couple of basics are energy drinks (and I don’t mean Red Bull) and Energy gels. There are also energy bars but if you can stomach one of those in a sprint race, you aren’t trying hard enough.
Energy drinks – whatever you use in a race, practise with, no point going out on the morning of the race and buying some High 5 drink and then throwing up on the bike as your stomach can’t handle it. Try it before hand, two of the most popular brands are High 5 and SIS (Science in Sport) Asda do the SIS and both can also be found in sports shops. Lucozade sport will proably do the same thing over a short distance like a sprint but its very sweet and is an acquired taste, try before the race.
My nutrition advice for the race is simple.
On the morning of the race, have a light breakfast 2 hours or more before your start – maybe toast, jam and coffee. Then over the next hour or so, drink around 500ml of average strength energy drink.
Have another 500ml bottle of weak energy drink on the bike and drink little and often all the way round the 20km.
For that exta boost and only for the ones who really want to bother, take an energy gel about halfway around the bike leg, this should kick in just as you start the run, light the blue touch paper ;-)
Good luck, and for those that just want to go out and have a laugh and enjoy the day because its your first triathlon, its not that serious, pay attention to some of the smaller TIPS that I have mentioned
However, be careful as 2 things may happen, its never ‘just for fun’ when there are 40+ iPSL people competing at the same event, and triathlon can be addictive !!!!