What is Triathlon Coaching?

You won’t have been training with other triathletes for very long before someone tells you about a coach they’re working with. It may come up in conversation naturally, or they may turn down the offer of a run together as it conflicts with their training plan. The word coach brings with it a lot of connotations, most commonly associated with tennis players at Wimbledon, someone ringside providing words of support to a boxer, or a drill sergeant barking out splits at swimmers in the pool, something very much for professionals.

This is something that held very true for a long time, but in recent years this has changed, as amateur athletes seek out the help of coaches who. This is particularly true for endurance athletes, with marathon runners and cyclists working remotely with coaches on a 1 to 1 basis, setting them training plans to help come out on top in an incredibly competitive world. However in no sport is this more prevalent than triathlon, where even first time athletes will seek out the help of a coach to help them cut through all the noise and misinformation.

The reason for this is that triathlon is so incredibly complicated. Your average wannabe triathlete will have experience in one of the three sports, but be way behind with the other two disciplines. You then have the complications of balancing training for three different spots and pacing an event that can last as long as a family day out, there’s an awful lot to go wrong.

Triathlon is an incredibly popular sport though, and there is a wealth of information out there, from magazines to blogs, manufacturers websites, athlete interviews, books, scientific papers, marketing, what you’ve been told by club coaches, it’s overwhelming and often the information conflicts with what you’ve read before or heard from a friend.

By hiring a triathlon coach, you are enrolling the help of someone who has read the literature, has tried different approaches with different clients training for different goals, and can use their experience to recommend the best way to train for your event. Can you only train for 7 hours a week? 80/20 isn’t going to work for you. Do you only have six weeks before your first event? There’s no point trying to schedule preparation, base and build training, Do you have an injury? We can help you design a programme to get you back on your feet again. Do you always find yourself worn out? We can help you balance your intensity and volume for maximum performance.

As you will have probably noticed by now, the majority of triathlon coaching is conducted remotely, a stark contrast to most sports where a coach will be there for the vast majority, if not all of the athlete’s training sessions, some triathletes will never meet their athletes. I’m currently working with someone in Damascus who I am unlikely ever to meet face to face, however through a mixture of video of his form, data analysis and good communication we are working to help him beat his personal best at the Olympic distance.

A training plans is of course the most important part of triathlon coaching, knowing what to do and when, but to really develop an athlete I feel communication is paramount. I may have created a textbook training plan that ticks all the boxes, but this may not be challenging enough as the athlete develops at a rate faster than I anticipated, or they may find themselves exhausted and not making any inroads into their fitness and at risk of over training. Constant communication with an athlete helps us avoid these pitfalls and ensures optimal training. Not only to optimise athletic performance, but to ensure the athlete is maintaining a positive relationship with training. Triathlon is a hobby for the vast majority of us, and while we can’t enjoy every workout, what’s the point if we’re resenting time spent training?

To ask the right questions however we need to understand the data. After every athlete uploads a workout I take the time to look over the numbers to analyse what happened. Did they hit the power targets? Did they exceed them? How did the heart rate compare to the power? Did the temperature affect their heart rate? How did the elevation affect their speed? Could it be that they’re going down with a bug? All of these are questions that need answering, and the analysis applied to the next week of training.

I deliver training plans on a week by week basis, so that I can take into account the findings and feedback from the week. If they’re on the brink of burnout we need to back off, if they’ve had a very difficult week with work we may need to ease into the next week gently, loading up the second half of the week once they’ve de-stressed a bit.

Triathlon coaching also allows you access to world class software, and more importantly someone who can operate the software to interpret the results and apply it to your training and racing. Whether it’s using WKO4 to view the quadrant analysis of your last ride or using Best Bike Split to create a race plan that reflects your ability and allows you to pace your bike split to perfection, you don’t have to spend hundreds on accessing this software and endless hours learning how to use it, the results are there for you on tap as the coach sinks hours into analysing your data and picks out what you need to know.

The biggest benefit for some is accountability, knowing that if they don’t get out there and run, their coach will be asking them questions. Knowing that if they run too fast or cut the workout short that questions will be asked. While a good coach will of course take into account any issues you may have on a day to day basis, we all miss workouts sometimes, they will also hold you to account if the excuses don’t wash.

Training for three sports means learning how to excel in three sports and, as we touched on earlier, it’s unlikely that as a newcomer you are knowledgable in more than one sport, when I started training for a triathlon I was pretty clueless about all three! Even if armed with a fantastic training plan, the chances are you will struggle with the execution of the workouts in one way or another. Whether it’s your swim technique, not knowing which bike to purchase or looking for help with your nutrition, a coach can help provide you with pragmatic, impartial advice on the best way forward. This is one of the reasons why at Phazon Triathlon we do not hold any strong affiliations with sponsors, to ensure we are able to advise athletes honestly and objectively, helping them select the right products for them. Coaches are fountains of knowledge for you to dip into whenever you have a query or are conflicted over something, dedicated to help you perform to be the best of your ability at your event.

Most triathlon coaches will also provide 1 to 1 coaching sessions, most popular of which tend to be swimming as this is the discipline where coaching. has the biggest impact. So if you’re looking for someone to help you dip your toe into open water, teach you how to corner properly on your bike or hold a correct running posture, booking time with a coach can help you take huge leaps forwards and improve your times much quicker than years spent plugging away with poor technique/form.

And at the end of the day, once all the training plans have been written, charts scrutinised and equipment purchased, there is still the human condition. The fear that you’re not doing enough, the bad workout that leaves you feeling destitute, the drop in motivation, the self doubt after a poor race result, these are all part of triathlon as much as swimming, cycling and running. A coach helps you put things in perspective, helps lift you up, shows you the silver linings and even act as a shoulder to cry on when things go wrong.

Triathlon coaching is all of the above, but it can also be whatever you want it to be. I work with some athletes who obsess over every data point, and some who simply want me to handle the numbers and tell them how fast to run. Some athletes need more reassurance and always have a lot of questions, others only check in much less frequently. I also have some athletes book regular 1 to 1 training sessions, some athletes I have never met in person! We offer a huge variety of support through our services, but it’s up to the individual how you utilise them.

I hope this has given you some insight into the value of working with a triathlon coach, the next step is choosing the right coach for you! Every coach has a different personality and every athlete has different needs so there’s no hard and fast answer, however we believe that here at Phazon Triathlon we provide some of the best quality and best value triathlon coaching available, including:

-Training plans delivered on a weekly basis to take into account your ever changing availability and feedback
-Unlimited coach contact, no charge for phone calls, text messages or E-mails
-Access to Best Bike Split and help creating your perfect plan for race day
-Detailed analysis and post activity comments after every workout, a chance to talk through what went well, what didn’t, and how this affects training going forward.
-In depth data analysis and dynamic FTP calculations using WKO4, the world’s most powerful analytics software.
-Advice with equipment, from basic troubleshooting to recommendations on the best products to purchase

New athletes are handled through an application process, and be sure to check out our athlete testimonials.

 

 

 

How to Improve Body Confidence

I’m bucking the trend here for a change, rather than a technical post on the details of triathlon, I’m writing this out of a sense of frustration of the messages that are peddled by major fitness brands, gyms, and some personal trainers; often preying on the fears and insecurities of people to sell their products. This post is the equivalent of a ski resort manager shouting at an avalanche to stop in its tracks, but I hope it has enough of an impact on those who read it to feel better about themselves, make informed decisions, and save themselves a lot of money. As a disclaimer, I’m going to be focusing on areas we can control with exercise, not wading into the world of anti ageing or plastic surgery as while I certainly have opinions on it, it’s well beyond my scope of understanding.

As a triathlon coach, I’ve never had anyone come to me with body related goals. Clients have said they’re carrying a bit of extra timber they’re looking to shift, but nobody has ever come to me saying they want to drop a dress size, hit a target weight or build muscle. Why might this be? While I can’t say for certain, I believe it’s because by the time athletes come to me they already run, cycle or swim, and have gained body confidence through this.

If you look at fitness models there is a very strong theme setting expectations for us, lots of people will look at the front cover of mainstream fitness magazines and believe that is what they should be aspiring to. However I want you to take a moment to think about watching the Olympics, think about a 100M runner compared to a marathon runner, a high jump athlete compared to a shot putter, a road cyclist compared to a track sprinter, a boxer compared to a marathon swimmer. Do you think the shot putter wants to look like the marathon runner? Does the cyclist lie awake at night wishing they looked like a boxer?

We all have things we aren’t 100% happy with about our bodies, but we need to remember that our body serves a purpose, and there is no perfect body. Do you think the cover star of a running magazine would last a round in the ring? Can a bodybuilder leg press as much as a track cyclist? No, these models are aspirational figures who have sculpted their bodies to match what will get them the gigs and Instagram followers they need, and they’ve shown remarkable dedication in doing so, but do you think they see themselves plastered across a centre spread and believe  they look the a Greek god? No, the chances are they’re cringing at their small shoulder muscles, wishing they had more definition in their abs, it becomes a game of whack a mole where they’re constantly shifting their training to give them the body they want, and who am I to judge them if it makes them happy and earns them a living?

However, not all of us have the time or the body type to meet these stereotypes. I’ve been careful not to point fingers at anyone or use any images so far as I don’t want it to seem like I’m shaming or bullying anyone, but there is someone I feel I’m in a position to judge and rip it out of mercilessly.

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Yours truly.

So here I am taking part in my last middle distance triathlon, is this an image you’ll ever find in a magazine? No it’s not for various reasons, but I’m sure you can all see I’m in possession of a fine pair of noodle arms. However, those who know about triathlon will notice that I’m the only person in this shot which is unusual, that’s because I was in third place at this point.

Yes I have some of the skinniest arms you’ll ever see, but I still managed to swim faster than the vast majority of other swimmers, and can get round a 1900M swim course quicker than 99.9% of the population. So do I really need to worry about getting bigger biceps? By sitting in the gym and doing bicep curls I would gain some extra muscle definition, the ladies might like it, but it would slow me down on the bike as I’d be carrying extra weight, for an extremely small benefit in the swim. So should I be ashamed of my skinny arms? They propelled me to 3rd place out of the water, they were some of the finest arms in Lincolnshire that day!

The point I want to push home is to focus on functionality, worry less about what your body looks like, and worry more about what it can do. If you want to feel better about your body, start training it to do something exceptional that you can be proud of, rather than worrying about what it looks like in the mirror.

However when I was 21 and I did no exercise do you think I looked in the mirror and was proud of my body? Absolutely not, it was the result of a process, here are a few guides to making the most of this process:

Diet

‘You are what you eat’, is the phrase parroted by nutritionists, personal trainers and mums across the world, however there are few things people over complicate more than nutrition. The golden rule here is everything in moderation, don’t think of good foods and bad foods, think of good diets and bad diets. Don’t get drawn into the hype surrounding different diets and the pseudo science surrounding them, you don’t need to worry about micro analysing your diet unless you are looking to perform at a VERY high (world class) level.

The key to a healthy diet is quite simple, eat 5 portions of fresh fruit and veg a day, don’t go overboard on the saturated/trans fats, cut out the fast food and ensure you are getting some protein in every meal. If you tie yourself into a strict diet you’ll find yourself lacking energy and willpower to train, which will have a far greater impact on speed on race day. If you consider yourself to be overweight this should solve itself with training, which brings me to my next point.

Developing a healthy relationship with exercise

Do you despise getting out of bed at 5AM for a 6AM gym class? Do you hate every moment of your weekly run? Is there anywhere you’d rather be than sat in an air conditioned gym pumping iron? Then do yourself a favour and find something you enjoy. If you dread something you’ll find any excuse not to do it, and you’ll never find a way to improve. When I first started swimming in 2012 I had a terrible time of things, I panicked in my first events, coming out of the water in the bottom 10%, but I enjoyed it and wanted to improve, I kept chipping away until in 2018 I won my first swimming event.

So don’t expect instant success in what you do, but if you enjoy the process the results will follow. Take time off when your body tells you to, make an effort to be social in your chosen sport, and you’ll turn into what you used to refer to as a “fitness freak”, which in hindsight was simply someone with a passion and drive for something beyond Netflix and beer. Enjoy the process and the results will follow.

Don’t get sucked in by marketing

Selling products that promise a shortcut to your dream body is like shooting fish in a barrel. people will spend huge amounts of money on supplements, equipment and recovery products endorsed by social media influencers that do very little beyond lighten your wallet, they prey on those with little time and a high disposable income. I’m not saying these products are useless, but they’re no substitute for hard work. You can’t spend 30 minutes spinning away on the gym bikes, take a wonder supplement and expect to see results. Brands like to over complicate simple things to trick you into buying their products, there is nothing their products do that real food can’t, you’re paying for the convenience and marketing.

Don’t track weight

Weight fluctuates a lot on a day to day as well as hour to hour basis. Weighing yourself first thing in the morning after using the toilet compared to straight after dinner can yield very different results, I once weighed in at 49KG the day after a very hot triathlon!

Weight doesn’t take muscle mass into account either, you can be making great improvements in your fitness yet actually gaining weight due to an increase in muscle mass. It’s much more inspiring to dip under 30 minutes for 5K or to cycle 20 miles for the first time than to become a slave to the bathroom scales.

If you really want to track your weight, use a system such as Boditrax, which I use intermittently out of curiosity. The below reading tells you all you need to know about using weight as a way to track fitness.

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If I was just looking at the bathroom scales I would see that I’d gained half a kilo, this would be incredibly disappointing considering the amount of training I’d been doing, but look a little closer, my fat percentage has dropped and my muscle mass has increased, I weigh more because I have more muscle mass.

 

To conclude, the way to improve your body confidence is to make the most of it, to do things you never thought possible, and see your body for what it is, a powerful tool rather than a mannequin.

The 2018 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships

After one of my athletes qualified for the 70.3 World Chamopinsip in Port Elizabeth at Edinburgh on the 1st July, in a haze of excitement I told him that I’d go out there with him, the race was his hometown and it was his dream come true to race there. As he was the first athlete I had trained to qualify for a world championship, it seemed like a good opportunity to see a part of the world I’d heard so much about.

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In the days preceding the event I made the most of the local area, going on Safari, checking out some of the local history and getting escorted out of a park because it was too dangerous to be there on my own, but before I knew it Thursday had come around and the event programme was kicking off, starting with the parade of nations.

This is a traditional event held in the days preceding world championships where countries line up under their country’s flags and engage in a parade with their compatriots, complete with commentary from the race announcers.

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The Parade of Nations arrived on Hobi beach, impossible to capture the scale of it in a single photo.

The biggest country by some margin was the USA, but Great Britain, South Africa, Germany and Australia also bought their fair share of athletes to the event dubbed “The fiercest race in the friendliest city”. The parade made its way through the Boardwalk area where the event was based, and towards Hobi beach where the race finished. Several thousand athletes converged on the seafront to hear speeches from the top brass on the World Triathlon Corporation (who own Ironman), as well as being treated to some traditional African music by a choir.

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The Welcome Banquet, well half of it! 

This was followed fairly soon after by the welcome banquet. My roommate who had his possessions stolen in London finally joined us in time for the food, which was surprisingly good quality and followed by a welcome ceremony and series of (mercifully)  short speeches by a series of dignitaries, including the shortest ever speech by a politician courtesy of the newly elected mayor of Nelson Mandella Bay, who has been in the job for two days after a vote of no confidence in his predecessor. The oldest competitor was bought onto the stage, and was asked what kept bringing her back. After an evening of people predictably towing the corporate line it was amusing to see the borderline chaos that broke out when she replied simply with “stupidity”.

The next day had an altogether different feel, the women’s race was taking part on the Saturday so everything was much more subdued as people started to get their race face on. The expo was busy with people buying last minute nutrition and spares (hopefully not temped into buying some bling piece of kit they planned to use on the day of the race) and the practice swim was looking very busy.  I had a go myself and was amazed at the clarity of the water, as well as the speed at which I was overtaken at a couple of points, I was certainly swimming with the sharks!

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On race morning itself we were treated to the most incredible sunrise over the beach as the Ironman machine was in full swing, dozens of safety craft in the water booming music and the very best athletes in the world warming up in the water, I’m pretty sure it gave everybody present goosebumps at one point or another. The pros received a traditional blessing before the start, then when the cannon went they sprinted into the ocean as I sprinted over to the swim exit for a good view of the leaders.

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The pro women line up to the sound of African drums

Lucy Charles was first out of the water in a time of 23 minutes followed by Fenella Landridge who I met in Johannesburg airport and spent a few hours chatting with. I thought she had an amazing swim, which she did, but it turns out she managed to gap the field so impressive by body surfing a wave into shore, giving her 5 seconds on the main pack, impressive!

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Lucy Charles is out of the water with one of the biggest leads I’ve ever seen at Ironman racing

Onto the bike course Lucy Charles and Daniella Ryf made it clear that it was a two horse race for the win, both averaging the best part of 40KPH for the 90KM, admittedly with a tailwind that appeared on the way back but most of us are happy to see 40KPH appear on our bike computer at any point, let alone as an average speed for a middle distance.

On the run Daniella immediately started to pull away from Lucy, although the gap did stabilise after the first few kilometres as Charles made it clear she was not letting go. It wasn’t to be for the Brit though and Ryf took the win in stunning style, before subsequently covering up as her tri suit had been stuck open for the entirety of the race leaving her sports bra on show and her tri suit flapping around, hopefully she’ll look back on the race for the tour de force it was rather than feel embarrassed because of a wardrobe malfunction.

The following day I was awoken by my roommate’s 4:30AM alarm call and I laid there in bed so caught up in the emotion of the event, questioning why I was lying in bed rather than getting ready to race myself. I’ve dedicated nearly all of my time and energy on growing my business in recent years so time for training has been limited and I’ve struggled with injury, but these were still excuses at the end of the day. A visit to the British Triathlon website later and I had signed myself up for a middle distance in seven days time with absolutely no specific training. “I think I’m going to live to regret this” I thought to myself, but I could at least use it as a marker of where my fitness is currently and how I can get to the start line of the world champs in Niece.

Sadly the weather wasn’t quite as glorious for the men, it was a grey day with drizzle which isn’t what springs to mind when you think of racing in Africa, but it was what it was and there was nothing anybody could do about it. Having scouted the swim start area out the day before I placed myself at what I believed to be the best spot to watch the start, which was also next to the entrance the pros took to the start, allowing me to wish every pro male good luck, by name if I recognised them!

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The lead men came out of the water in a stunning 21 minutes (Brownlee later lamented the lack of pace in the swim), and were quickly onto the bike. A much larger group formed at the front of affairs in the men’s race consisting of Brownlee, Gomez, Kanute and Frodeno. Coming off of the bike Brownlee was unable to hold the pace as Gomez and Frodeno lead the charge. Unfortunately Gomez suffered a stitch causing him to stop briefly, allowing Frodeno to take the win in emphatic style and Brownlee to pass the Spaniard for silver as Gomez hung on for third.

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The age groupers started in waves of 10

My athlete did incredibly well, finishing in the top 50% of his age group with a new PB by 5 minutes. We were concerned about his heel which he fractured during Edinburgh (how he managed to qualify with that I’ll never know), but he pulled a textbook race out of the bag to come home in 4:40. To PB in his hometown clearly meant the world to him and I’m proud to have been part of his journey.

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I hoovered up some merchandise and made my way home, it truly was the trip of a lifetime, and I don’t use that phrase lightly. Since starting my coaching in 2016 it was the first time I had away from London, acting as both a break and a real surge of inspiration for me, showing me what can be achieved and what we’re working towards. I’m determined to get at least one of my athletes to Niece in 2019 so I can attend myself an go some way to reliving that incredible week I spent in South Africa.

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You didn’t think you were getting away without at least one photo from my safari did you?

I can’t wait till my first athlete qualifies for Kona so I have an excuse to head out there!

The Phazon Triathlon Guide to The London Triathlon

The London Triathlon is the world’s biggest multisport event, attracting thousands of athletes year on year. Its location in one of the world’s largest cities and beginner friendly nature makes it very popular for those looking to compete in their first event, while the flat, fast nature of the course also appeals to PB hunters.

There are multiple distances available:

Super Sprint: 400M swim, 10 KM bike, 2.5KM run

This distance is ideal for those just looking to dip their toe into the world of triathlon, there are limited spaces available for this distance compared to the others so it’s worth ensuring you get your entry in soon to avoid disappointment.

Sprint: 750M swim, 20KM bike, 5KM run

Very popular with first timers, this is a challenge in endurance in its own right. Most people will be looking at somewhere between 1:20 and 2:00 for a finishing time in this distance, so it’s far from a sprint in reality!

Olympic: 1500M swim, 40KM bike, 10KM run

This distance gets its name from its inclusion in the Olympic Games, a true test of endurance but without getting silly as with the Ironman 70.3 and full Iron distance events. The winners may go just under the two hour mark, with most people coming in somewhere between 2:20 and 3:10. There is a separate wave for those who can go under 2:30 to allow them a clearer, less congested course.

Olympic Plus: 1500M swim, 80KM bike, 10KM run

For the strong cyclists out there, this event isn’t too far removed from a half Ironman distance, and is a good stepping stone for those nervous about the step up to 70.3.

Logistics
Getting to the start of the event can be a bit of a challenge due to the road closures for the event, especially on the Sunday where the road closures are more extensive, as a result I highly recommend you take public transport to the start if based in London, or find yourself a hotel close by if you are travelling from afar. The DLR technically has a limit on the number of bikes that are permitted on each train, but I’ve never heard of anyone enforcing this during the triathlon weekend.

Make sure you arrive at least two hours before your wave starts where possible, this allows you time to set up your transition area, collect your number, mark up your bike, get changed into your wetsuit, make multiple trips to the toilet and still be there 20 minutes before your swim start.

Ensure you take time to watch the briefing video and familiarise yourself with the layout of transition area to save you valuable seconds during your race as the clock doesn’t stop between sports!

Swim

 

London Triathlon Swim
Image Credit London Triathlon

The swim is held in the London Royal Docks, which isn’t as dirty as it looks or sounds! The docks have long been abandoned and the water quality improved dramatically in the last 15 years with the installation of a filter at the intake point. NOWCA run swim sessions most days at the west of the docks and I have spent several hours in the water coaching sessions without ever falling ill, so the likelihood of you picking something up during a race are incredibly low, just try to avoid swallowing any water.

Wetsuits are compulsory for this event, while they don’t give an explicit reason for this I believe it is due to the large mixture of abilities in the water, so make sure you have a suit ready to go as there are none available to hire on the day. As of the 2018 edition, if the water temperature is over 25 degrees wetsuits will be banned and athletes will instead be forced to swim with no wetsuit and use a tow float instead. To my knowledge this has never occurred in the history of the race, but given the summer we’re experiencing at the time of writing it’s not out of the realms of possibility.

When you arrive in your swim pen you will be given a briefing on the course and any updates on the weather/conditions, as well as a few chants to get you fired up. Once you walk outside and down the steps you will find yourself on a floating pontoon, and you can enter the water however you like, whether you prefer to dive, jump or tentatively lowering yourself in. You can be waiting for quite some time if you’re one of the first in the water, so if you’re nervous hang towards the back to avoid time spent treading water.

The swim course is as simple as can be, a one lap clockwise loop dependent on the distance that you are swimming. Make sure you start on the right to shorten the distance to the first buoy, and start towards the back if you are feeling nervous or are a slower swimmer to avoid getting swum over, which is an unpleasant as it sounds.

Once you climb yourself out of the water you have to remove your wetsuit, which there are wetsuit strippers on hand to assist you with. Your suit will then be placed inside a plastic bag and you will be pointed in the direction of the stairs that lead you back up to transition, bagged wetsuit in hand.

The reason for removing your wetsuit is to avoid getting water all over the stairs which will create a slipping hazard, in years gone by I know they placed some hessian sacking on the steps/floor on the way into transition, but this didn’t stop people stacking it spectacularly as they ran to their bike so be careful, especially if you are experiencing some dizziness after the swim.

Bike

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Image credit London Triathlon

After mounting your bike and pushing it to the mount line you will be saddle up before being sent down a ramp to ground level where you will commence the longest of the three disciplines.

The course varies depending on the time and the day you are racing, on the Saturday you will be on a much shorter course while on Sunday the course will be longer, going all the way out to Westminster if you are lucky enough to be heading out first thing.

The course is fast and flat but technical in parts due to the amount of roundabouts and 180 degree turns. I believe this has improved since I last did the event, but it’s worth keeping your wits about you on course.

The biggest factor to remember is that even though it’s closed roads doesn’t mean you can switch off, if anything it means you have to keep your wits about you even more as you will be sharing the course with a large amount of cyclists, some who may be riding in a very unpredictable fashion. Ensure you always ride on the left and check over your shoulder before any change of direction. If you hear a call of “right!” that means a rider is about to pass you on your right and this is a polite reminder to hold position or move over to let them past. Also be wary when taking corners of riders going around the inside or outside of you, hold your line and avoid erratic movements to enjoy your ride.

After you complete the bike your legs will already be tired, but it’s time for the most physically demanding discipline, the run!

Run

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The run course is 2.5KM long and absolutely pancake flat, however it is also incredibly busy as hundreds of athletes are crammed into a 2.5KM stretch of tarmac and concrete. Things have improved in recent years with a simple out and back course rather than the twisty narrow course previously used, but you may still find yourself having to weave around and sharpen your elbows to fight your way through the crowds. This is the only run course where I’ve never been overtaken by anyone, primarily as many are competing in their first triathlon and are starting to run out of gas and walk portions by this point. If you are a stronger runner be prepared to do a bit of dodging and weaving to hold your pace, if you are starting to struggle then stay to the left of the course to allow faster athletes past.

The run starts and finishes in the Excel centre with previous years including a 200M section inside the exhibition hall itself so GPS struggles, but the course comes up considerably shorter than advertised, especially at the 10K distance, I believe the distance is much closer to 9KM in total, although as I haven’t competed since 2015 this may have been addressed.

Once you cross the line you will find yourself in the finisher’s area where you will receive your medal, you can have your photo taken, pick up some alcohol free beer and relax for a bit before you make your way back to transition to collect your belongings.

If this is your first triathlon you may need to brush up on some basic British Triathlon Federation (BTF) rules to avoid any penalties/disqualifications. I’ll run you through some of the most essential rules to avoid embarrassment:

No drafting
Drafting is the act of riding behind another cyclist and gaining an advantage in doing so due to . Different races have different drafting zones but at London they have a 10M drafting zone behind each competitor you are not allowed to enter unless you are overtaking. If you are caught gaining an advantage in this way you can expect a time penalty or disqualification.

Helmet on before touching bike
Not only are helmets mandatory, you must have your helmet on your head and fastened securely before you even touch your bike, not doing so can result in a time penalty, and riding with an unfastened helmet is a good way to get yourself disqualified.

No nudity
Ok, so this goes without saying I hope, but most importantly this extends to keeping your torso covered, so if you have a full length zip on your trisuit you can’t run with it open if it gets hot.

Bike in good working order
This should go without saying, but if you pull a rusty bike out of the shed and wheel it down to the Excel, they won’t allow it on course. While it doesn’t have to have the top components and a thorough safety check, they will check that the brakes are in good working order and the handlebars have plugs on them to avoid injury. If they see anything else that concerns them they may run it past a BTF referee before letting it out on course.

Hopefully this has given you a good idea of what to expect and will ease the pre race nerves. Whether this is your first triathlon or you are taking part in an elite wave, I wish you the very best of luck with your race!

Blagger’s Guide to Race Nutrition

Image credit Nils Nilsen

Nutrition is the single most complex issue in long course triathlon, and the most subjective from individual to individual. While less of a concern for the sprint and Olympic distances, by the time you look at half Iron and Iron distance events it can be the difference between finishing strong and not making it off of the bike. Many marathon runners talk about “Hitting the wall”, a point in the race where you are suddenly blindsided and unable to walk. In triathlon we normally refer to this as bonking (pipe down at the back), but by the time you reach this stage you’ve already made a mistake by letting your energy reserves become depleted. The bad news is that you can’t simply “push through” the wall, your body is literally empty and will start breaking down muscle fibre in search of energy. The good news is that it’s completely avoidable with the right fuelling strategy.

During any event over 90 minutes you need to take on extra calories to maintain performance, let’s take an Ironman as an example. We normally start around 6:30AM, and most people are on the bike by 8:30AM when your body is already expecting the calories from Breakfast. We need to keep topping up our energy stores throughout the day, and the only way we can do this is by taking on calories in a way that won’t upset our stomach. If we pull over to enjoy a Sunday roast halfway through the bike and then jump back on our trusty steed to put out 200W our stomach will be less than cooperative. We need to find a way to take on calories in a consistent and measured manner that is easy for our digestive system to process.

Fuelling slows us down, that much we can’t deny, and when you’re feeling strong tearing up the bike course, you don’t want to slow down by reaching into your back pocket/bento box to extract and unwrap our fuel source of choice. Our heart says to keep pressing on, but our head tells us to be smart and take on food, guess which one we should listen to?

There are various different ways to take on calories, each with their pros and cons which we’ll look at here:

Gels

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A sweet semi solid substance that you slurp up, these provide a (nearly) instant injection of energy, breathing life back into tired muscles. If you’re wobbling all over the road and shaking, nothing will get you back in the game quite like an energy gel, it achieves this by containing very simple sugars that are easily absorbed. However as soon as you start to get back in your rhythm you will start to crash again as they quite simply put you on a sugar high, followed by a predictable crash. I wouldn’t want to fuel any event longer than an Olympic triathlon solely on energy gels, something that releases energy in a slower, more sustainable manner is essential for success at middle and long distance.

Pros: Easy to digest, give you an instant boost

Cons: Can be sickly, some require water to wash down, only give a short term pick up

Energy Bars

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All nutrition manufacturers will have their patented energy bars, these vary from brand to brand but are generally oat based, very dense and energy rich. These are a much more sustainable way of replacing depleted energy stores than energy gels, and are a much more natural way of taking on energy which will appeal to many simply out of principal. The oats will release energy slowly, and the bonding agent is normally sugary, as a result these can still be fairly sweet and are normally very chewy. This is all well and good if you’re rolling along at 70% of FTP chatting to friends, but I’ll never forget the time I came across a 20% gradient in Yorkshire with a mouth full of an apple and blackberry energy bar.

Pros: Sustainable energy release, individually wrapped for easy transportation

Cons: Can be very expensive, difficult to chew, still quite sweet

Real Food

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Image Copyright Tesco

As time goes by and I see past the marketing that brands push, I have found myself moving towards real food over branded energy products. This is a personal choice as I have very low fat reserves so my nutritional demands are quite unique, but I find myself craving something substantial to line my stomach, items such as pistachio cookies, crisps and ginger cake to keep my stomach from turning itself over and protect against stitches and cramps. This is also the cheapest way to fuel yourself, a batch of homemade flapjacks will cost far less than half a dozen branded energy bars and allows you to control the texture, sweetness and portion size to taste.

Pros: cheap, more satisfying, enormous variety

Cons: Can be difficult to transport, preparation time for homemade food

Sports Drinks

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I use this as an umbrella term to cover various branded products that contain carbohydrate in the form of sugars and electrolytes to replace lost salt. This is a fuel source favoured by many long distance athletes due to its easy consumption and transportation, some (very successful) athletes even manage a diet of nothing but sports drink and energy gels. Personally, I can’t think of anything worse but we’re all individuals and need to find what works for us.

Pros: Very easy to digest, take on fluids and calories at once, less likely to neglect hydration

Cons: Has to be mixed (difficult mid race), slow absorption into bloodstream, easy to take on too many calories.

It’s worth mentioning here the role that course nutrition plays, for most middle and long distance races fuel stations will be provided for athletes to get a drink and something to eat. I encourage my athletes not to rely too heavily on these stations and to be as self sufficient as possible, it’s not unheard of for feed stations to run dry, and the products there may not be to your liking. Aim to be self sufficient, but do your research on the nutrition that will be available at the feed stations, the brand and the products they will be stocking, if this information isn’t available on the race website, E-mail the organiser and ask. If they are only carrying peanut and vanilla Powerbars, then buy some and try them while training, if you find one of them really upsets you, then you know to avoid it on race day. Many races will also provide you with a special needs bag at the halfway point, make use of this and ensure you have enough nutrition in there to comfortably get you to the end of the race, just in case you previously hit a pothole and jettisoned all of your nutrition in the process.

Electrolytes

Electrolytes is simply a fancy sounding word for salt, but if they tried to sell salt tablets they’d probably sell an awful lot less. As I alluded to earlier, replacing salt is critical for endurance athletes, especially if you’re a heavy sweater, we work with all of our athletes to create a bespoke hydration plan to improve performance and avoid a potentially fatal condition known as hyponatremia where the blood becomes so diluted that it starts to affect brain function. Luckily getting your electrolyte balance right is a lot simpler than food, and there are four ways to keep yourself topped up.

Sports Drinks

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Yes, sports drinks again. The vast majority of sports drinks will include electrolytes required for peak performance without having to worry about taking on extra supplements. If unsure, check the ingredients and look for potassium, sodium and/or chloride.

Electrolyte Tablets

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There is such a thing as too many calories (more on that later), so electrolyte tablets in water allows us to keep our levels topped up without excess calories. These will often be mildly flavoured, and are more palatable than sports drinks although personally I find myself craving good old plain water when I hit the 4/5 hour mark in an event.

Salt Tablets

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If you don’t take to the taste of dissolvable electrolytes you can use a small oral tablet at regular intervals instead. These are easy to swallow and tasteless, although easier to forget to take, and can be fiddly to transport, if you lose your stash of tablets you can find yourself in big trouble.

Salty Snacks

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Some athletes simply prefer to take some pretzels with them, providing calories and electrolytes in one tasty combination. The only issue is how you plan to transport them, although salty snacks will be available at most aid stations.

Now we have an idea of how we are going to replace our calories and electrolytes, we need to understand how much to eat and when, there are two main problems people can run into, eating too little, or eating too much.

Under Fuelling

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Julie Moss collapses within 100M of the finish line at Kona 1982. Image credit Carol Hogan

When you bonk, it’s not something you can push through, it is your body quite simply breaking down like a car spluttering its way to a halt with an empty fuel tank. This can come almost without warning, and is often preceded by a feeling of strength as you throw yourself out of the saddle and hurl yourself up a hill, before your body starts to shake and you start to weave around the road. Once this has happened to you a few times you don’t take any chances out there and always make sure you have a spare gel or bar to fall back on, picking a cornershop flapjack up on your way through the next village when you use your last bar up. You can also find yourself in big trouble if you get lost and have to ride/run longer than you were expecting, nobody ever regretted taking extra food on a ride.

Over fuelling

While the effects are less dramatic than under fuelling, taking on too many calories poses a risk in itself. Once you’ve bonked a couple of times you find yourself taking all precautions to try and prevent it happening again, which can present other issues. The primary issue is stomach emptying rates, your digestive system can only work so fast, especially when exercising hard as it’s diverting the vast majority of its energy to the muscles. Think of how long it takes to digest a big Sunday Roast, now imagine trying to digest that while running an Ironman marathon rather than in front of the Antiques Roadshow. If you keep pushing food down your throat when your body is already full it will protest violently, and this is often the cause behind the gastronomical distress that athletes experience during a race. This can result in stitches, stomach cramps, violent bowel movements and/or vomiting, which you want to avoid at all costs.

The easiest way to avoid over fuelling is to ensure your carry some water without any carbohydrate content. A lot of athletes know they have to keep hydrated throughout a race, but if all they have is sports drinks they will start taking on 500ml+ an hour of sugary liquids along with energy gels, bars and real food, a recipe for disaster as the stomach simply can’t keep up with the calories you’re filling it with.

One point I’ve tried to hammer home is that what nutrition is incredibly individual, and you shouldn’t try to copy the nutrition plans of your training partners or favourite pro athletes. There are more factors that affect nutritional needs than I could possibly list without boring you all to death, but it’s important you experiment in your training. Standing at the side of the road draped over your handlebars struggling the find the energy to clip back in is a rite of passage in triathlon, and you have to get it wrong a few times to find out what works for you. It’s important you make these mistakes in training rather than on race day, so play around and find what works for you. Unfortunately the chances are you will experience GI distress to a greater or lesser extent during a long distance triathlon, which leads me onto arguably the most important piece of advice in this entire article.

Never trust a fart during an Ironman.

Road Tyres 101

Tyres, how much can be written about those pieces of rubber that sit on your wheels? Have you ever given a second thought to these since buying your bike? If not then you really should, they’re the contact patch between you and the road, and spending a few pennies on upgrading them can reap huge benefits, being the difference between you smashing a PB, sat on the side of the road fixing a puncture with everyone else streaming past you.

Tyre types

There are three types of tyre available to the cyclist, and not every type of tyre is compatible with every wheel, so pay attention to the wheels you have and the type of tyre you pick off the shelf. If in doubt, pop into your local bike shop for advice.

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Image Credit Swimbikesurvive

 

Clinchers

Far and away the most popular choice and what I’d currently recommend for the vast majority of my athletes, the standard tyre that you most likely have on your wheels. It holds a butyl/latex inner tube in place under high pressure, and if a sharp object makes its way through the tyre then this will pierce the inner tube, resulting in a puncture. This is relatively easy to fix and you’ll be back on the road in no time at all.

Tubular

There was a time when clincher tyres were heavy with poor grip, and the racing cyclist used tubular tyres, also known as tubs. These work in the same way as a non tubeless car tyre, the entire tyre inflates rather than a replaceable inner tube which means that if you get a puncture you have to change the entire tyre. This involves gluing the tyre onto your rim, so not only would you have to carry a spare tyre, you’d also have to carry the kit to affix it to the rim. As the glue takes 72 hours to set fully, you can’t even roll home safely, so very few cyclists will use them for training. They still have a place in racing when you’re followed by a team car, or in a time trial where a puncture is essentially a DNF and their marginally improved grip, ride feel and weight saving can pay off, but now that clinchers have come so far, there’s very little reason for the amateur triathlete to run tubs.

Tubeless

These work in a similar fashion to clinchers in that they are held in place by your rim, the difference being that there is no inner tube, with direct inflation of the tyre pinning itself in place. Tubeless tyres have improved rolling resistance (more on that later) and are more lightweight than clincher tyres with tubes, as well as providing unparalleled puncture resistance. Before inflating the tyre the majority of people then insert a sealant into the which will immediately seal any holes that appear as the result of a stray nail or shard of glass. If your tyre rips or you experience an especially large puncture then the tyre may not seal itself

So why isn’t everyone running tubeless? If you get a puncture which the sealant fails to repair as it is too large then, you’re up a famous creek without a paddle. Another problem is the historic lack of choice in the tubeless market, manufacturers like Hutchinson have been making tubeless tyres for years, but it’s only recently that the heavy hitters in the tyre market have been making tubeless tyres, and even more recently that wheel manufacturers have started bringing out a bigger range in tubeless ready rims. There is also the difficulty in getting them setup which is an art in itself, and unless you know what you’re doing is probably best left to a bike shop.

However I believe that these problems will be overcome and in five years time most of us will be running tubeless setups. The cycling market is traditionally very superstitious, however markets like triathlon are pushing innovation forward at an increased rate and bringing old fashioned cyclists around to the benefits of new tech.

So which system should you run? At the time of writing (early 2018) I would recommend clincher tyres to most for their ease of use and the large variety of compounds available. Most of us know how to change a puncture and tubeless would likely involve a reinvestment in wheels, something not appealing to many.

So which compound should you go for? What’s the difference between the tyres that came on your bike and the tyres that cost £50 a pop? Let’s look into the factors that make tyres such an important consideration.

Puncture Protection

Let’s start with the big one for many new triathletes, the dreaded puncture. If you are unlucky enough to ride over a sharp object it will try to make its way through your tyre and pierce your delicate inner tube, resulting in a flat tyre, which for some is as good as a DNF. However don’t think that more expensive tyres have better puncture protection as that’s just not the case. The more puncture proof material that you place between the tyre and the inner tube, the heavier the tyre becomes, and the more sluggish the handling, so it really is a balance between performance and puncture protection. You can even get solid tyres which are obviously completely immune to punctures, but handle like an absolute turd. This is acceptable for your hipster commuter making their way through Shoreditch, but for the discerning road cyclist is nothing short of heresy.

Grip

The biggest factor for most cyclists is the grip that a tyre offers, which allows you to corner faster and can be the difference between making a corner or ending up on the side of the road as your bike washes out from underneath you. Upon upgrading to a nice grippy tyre you’ll feel confidence in the way it sticks to the road, reducing the amount of speed you need to scrub off before cornering. Grip and TPI (threads per inch) tend to go hand in hand, so look for a tyre with a high TPI for improved grip.

Rolling Resistance

Without wanting to get too wrapped up in science here, this refers to how well the tyre rolls on the tarmac, and the energy which is saved from having a tyre with improved rolling resistance. This comes down to the rubber used and the friction that is created between the tyre and the road, using the same principle as fuel saving tyres that you see advertised for cars. Think of the difference between riding a mountain bike tyre on the road compared to a slick racing tyre, that’s an extreme example of rolling resistance.

Weight

Well it wouldn’t be an article on road cycling kit without discussing the weight of the item in question would it? Choosing high end tyres is a very economical way of saving weight on your bike, and it also on the most important area (the wheels) which allows for faster accelerations.

Width

How wide a tyre is dictates the amount of grip it offers, the pressure it can be run at, and how aerodynamic it is. The industry has made a huge lurch towards wider tyres and rims in recent years as testing suggests that a wider tyre run at a lower pressure provides much improved rolling resistance, comfort and grip. The only scenario where you may want to run a slimmer (under 25mm) tyre is in triathlons or time trials, which provides the triathlete with a bit of a problem.

A slimmer tyre will provide us with improved aerodynamics, but this may be outweighed by the improved rolling resistance of a slightly wider tyre. In years gone by 19mm tyres were the norm, where now it’s very rare to see a 23mm tyre as most roadies move towards 25s and 28s. I don’t have a silver bullet answer as everyone is different, however personally I advocate comfort and grip over aerodynamic performance. The differences will be incremental either way so feel free to experiment and see what works for you.

One word of caution is that many older road and even some newer TT frames, are designed to run 23mm tyres, and may not be able to run anything wider. This is dictated primarily by the clearance around the frame, although your brake calliper will also play a part in dictating how wide you can go. To add another variable into the mix, some tyres will balloon up larger than others, with some brands 25mm tyres coming up closer to 28mm. This can even be affected by the width of the rim you are using, it can be a real can of worms, however Schwable have created the below table to help people calculate what they can and can’t run on different rims. This is designed for their own tyres, however as long as you’re not at the extremes of the range you should be fine.

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Soft/hard rubber

A tyre manufacturer has to weigh up its options between how soft and grippy they want their tyre to be, and how many miles you’ll get out of it. Think of Formula 1 tyres which only last for an absolute max of an hour, or even the moto GP qualifying tyre which will start to go off after a single hard lap. The gripper a tyre is the shorter its lifespan, which means there is no perfect tyre for every situation. Some cyclists will use a very high mileage tyre such as the Vittoria Zaffiro for their training and a softer compound for racing. Personally I prefer to use a softer compound all year round as I like to get a feeling for how grippy my tyres are before I race, and I’m passionate about keeping it rubber side down.

Colour

Yes, colour can have an effect on the performance of the tyre, why do you think the vast majority of tyres are black? Rubber is black in it natural state, and to add pigment to a compound manufacturers have to reduce the silicon content. This is only marginal, but worth bearing in mind as you don’t want to find yourself climbing out ofa ditch and wondering if you’d be in a less compromising situation had you gone with plain old black.

Pressure

While it is a subject that warrants another article in itself, when choosing tyres it is worth checking the pressures you can run them at. Running tyres at a higher pressure gives a firmer ride and is preferred by those riding on smoother roads, however there is increasing evidence that running lower pressures actually reduces rolling resistance unless you are riding on roads that resemble glass. The graph below should give you a rough idea on what pressure to run, but some trial and error is involved to help you find a ride quality you feel suits you.

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Source: Frank Betro

So as you can see there is an awful lot more to the humble bike tyre than first meets the eye, and by now you are probably starting to realise there is no one tyre that is perfect for everyone. A city commuter will have very different demands to a time trialist, and someone who is riding on gravel paths will choose a different tyre to someone riding the perfectly smooth roads of Switzerland. Let’s look at some of the notable tyres on the market and what they provide:

Continental Grand Prix 4000s

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My go to tyre since I started cycling, I’ve never received a puncture or dropped it on a corner while running these, they have a solid puncture protection strip combined with a nice grippy compound that works well in all weathers. Traditionally I switch to their 4 season compound in the winter but just never got round to it this year and haven’t had any problems. These tyres are a staple choice of many road cyclists and it’s hard to go wrong.

Continental Grand Prix 4 Seasons

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This is an evolution of the GP4000 tyre, using a harder compound that works better in the wet and at lower temperatures. This is combined with an increased puncture protection strip which increases weight and slightly affects handling slightly, however you’re unlikely to notice until you start giving it some real gas. These tyres also last longer than the GP 4000s, so many people choose to run them all year round.

Continental Gatorskin

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A staple of the city cyclist, these tyres are pretty much bulletproof. They’re an absolute nightmare to get on and off, but as the chances of anything making it through the thick puncture protection strip are so minimal, there’s a chance that once you’re attached them they’ll never need removing. All of this comes at great compromise to the grip of the tyre, and they are affectionately known as “Skaterskins” in some circles, after the number of riders who lose it in the corners trying to follow someone on superior tyres, especially in wet conditions. For the cyclist who simply wouldn’t be able to repair a puncture themselves or for a pure commuting bike they are an appealing choice, but unstable for the performance cyclist.

Specialized S-works Turbo

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I dabbled with these for a few months after picking them up on the cheap a couple of years ago. They rolled well, but didn’t inspire the confidence in the corners I had become accustomed to, not due to outright grip so much as the balance of the tyre. A perfectly functional tyre, but when I swapped them out for my 4 Seasons come winter, I wasn’t in a hurry to switch back to them come the following summer.

Specialized S-works Turbo Cotton

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This is one of the grippiest tyres on the market, boasting an impressive 320 TPI this tyre corners like it’s on rails, however is quite prone to punctures. An out and out race day tyre, which you’ll want to swap for the non-cotton version for training.

Pirelli P-Zero Velo

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The last name in vehicular tyres, Pirelli returned to the cycling scene last year with their velo series which have arrived to critical acclaim. While I have not tried them myself (as an F1 fan it’s on my to do list) I have heard great things from those who have tried them, although anecdotally they are not as resistant to puncture as similar tyres.

Pirelli P-Zero Velo 4S

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The winter version of Pirelli’s standard velo tyre, this tyre is the lighetst and highest performance winter tyre available, well suited for winter races such as duathlons. It is lightweight compared to other winter tyres and makes compromises with puncture protection to achieve this, however if you are looking to push hard in cold conditions, this tyre provides the highest level of grip in cold and wet conditions.

Pirelli P-Zero TT

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An out and out performance tyre it only comes in 23mm which is something of a shame as for longer events many prefer a wider tyre. However it is ultralight and boasts one of the lowest rolling resistances on the market, although this comes at the expense of puncture protection, making this the ideal tyre for PB hunters for who a puncture is as good as a DNF.

Vittoria Corsa G+

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Vittoria are interesting as they are at the forefront of graphene technology, an ultralight yet strong material used by frame manufacturer Dassi to reinforce their frames and by Vittoria to provide puncture protection. Many riders I know have moved to Corsa tyres in recent years, but given my six years of no punctures with Conti tyres I haven’t had a reason to join them myself. They also look the part with a tan sidewall on the tyres.

 

These are the tyres I’m currently familiar with, there are more manufacturers out there, and many more tyres available from the manufacturers above, however I would only be lifting information from other websites to include them here. Each manufacturer has a website which includes a wealth of information on each tyre and the technologies involved, so are a good place to start for more information.

To summarise, tyres fall into four main categories, all rounders, race specific, heavy duty and winter specific. This is the one component of the bike I’d always encourage people to maximise their budget for, as they can be the difference between a fast bike leg and sitting at the side of the road waiting for a lift home.

 

Should you run disc brakes?

If you are looking at buying a new bike ahead of next season and have been visiting some bike shops in search of your new steed, you will have noticed that many bikes come in disc and non disc brake versions. Disc brakes use two brake pads to pinch a disc rotor that is affixed to the wheels of your bike, one on the front and one on the rear. In this respect they work like rim brakes, by creating friction that slows the wheel, however the big difference is that they are pinching disc rotors and not the rims of the wheel.

So what are the advantages of disc brakes? Let’s take an objective look at the benefits.

Improve performance in the wet
People talk about disc brakes having “more power”, which suggests they probably didn’t have their rim brakes set up correctly, it’s perfectly possible to lock up your front or rear brakes with rim brakes, but where discs definitely give you more stopping power is in the wet. When you apply rim brake pads to rims in the wet, the first two rotations the wheel makes are simply dispersing water from the rim before the pads bite and start slowing the bike. Even when the rims are cleared of water braking performance is vastly reduced, which can be the difference between keeping it rubber side down or ending up under a tree, or even worse, a car. Disc brakes achieve this improved performance by using far more viscous brake pads than rim brake equivalents.

 

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Personally, I’d be looking for all the help I could get when descending in these conditions. Image credit EdBookPhoto

Save on expensive wheels
Wheels are the most expensive upgrade you can buy for your bike. If you’re shelling out four figures on a new set of hoops, you don’t want to have to replace or re-rim them a couple of years down the line because the rims have worn away after thousands of hours of braking. Replacing a disc rotor will cost a maximum of £60 to replace when it wears down, a significant saving compared to replacing your expensive carbon wheels.

Resistant to brake fade
If you encounter long descents when riding, disc brakes can help keep you safe, especially if you are a nervous or inexperienced descender. Some descents can last the best part of an hour, and the novice rider may find themselves riding the brakes for the majority of this time as they speed towards hairpins and sheer drops. Doing so will keep you safe in the short term, but using rim brakes like this will result in temperature building in your rims. There are three problems with this, braking performance decreases, tubes are prone to exploding due to the build up of heat, and carbon rims can be damaged. With disc brakes the only problem you need to worry about is a reduction in braking performance, which they don’t suffer nearly as badly as rim brakes, especially high end disc rotors which provide improved heat dissipation. This means you can sit on your brakes for much longer before you notice a fall off in performance.

However there are some downsides to running discs as well

Risk of bending rotors
If you crash in a very specific way or your bike is not properly handled during transit, there is a possibility your rotor can become bent out of shape and cause brake rub as a result. However such crashes are rare and rotor covers are available to buy to protect your bike in transit.

Sharp edge hazard
Anyone who follows professional cycling will be aware of the controversy surrounding disk brakes. The UCI (international governing body for cycling) ran a trial on disc brakes in the pro peloton. During one race, a rider got caught up in a crash and ended up with a gash on his leg, which he blamed on a disc brake rotor. There is no evidence the cut was caused by a disc brake rotor, however the UCI suspended the trial following the incident, before introducing them again following a review. The jury is out on just how much of a hazard rotors present as there are no confirmed incidents of a rider being injured by a disc brake rotor, but the risk is almost nonexistent in non draft legal triathlon where we have to maintain a minimum distance between us and the rider in front. I’d wager far more accidents have been prevented by reliable braking in the wet that will ever be caused by disc brake rotors. Nonetheless certain governing bodies (including France and Spain) have got cold feet about disc brakes and are currently not permitting them in their events, so it’s worth checking the race information for your event before you make a purchase.

Wheel compatibility
This is a problem for many riders who already have a garage full of wheels, your disc brake bike will not be compatible with any of your current wheels. This means you will have to restart your wheel collection if you make the switch to discs, a costly endeavour indeed.

Weight/aero penalty
For the weight weenies or aero obsessives out there, yes disc brakes weigh marginally more and are slightly less aerodynamic than standard rim brakes, but the differences really are tiny, and any time lost due to this penalty can be made up again with improved confidence when braking. Bear in mind that one of the world’s most advanced triathlon bikes, The Cervelo P5X, is only available with disc brakes, and if it’s good enough for the world’s greatest IRONMAN athletes, it’s good enough for me.

 

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Cervelo P5X, possibly the world’s most advanced triathlon bike, available only with disc brakes (image credit Cervelo)

On balance I believe that disc brakes are a superior product and are the way the industry is going to move in the next 5-10 years. There will always be a place for rim brakes due to their simplicity and the fact we’ve been running rim brakes for as long as anyone can remember, but it’s already come to the point where some bikes such as the P5X, are disc brake only.

If you spend a lot of time around road cyclists and have bought up the possibility of switching to disc brakes, there’s a good chance at least one of them will have tried to talk you out of it, even if they don’t seem to have much of an argument against them. The truth is that roadies are very resistant to change, they’re a superstitious bunch who have probably been riding rim brakes for 30 years and don’t see the need to change. If they are comfortable riding rim brakes, I’m certainly not going to try to change their minds, people should run whatever they feel comfortable riding. However you are not a road cyclist, you are a triathlete, and we’re looking for outright performance over tradition and romanticism.

My next bike will be a disc brake bike, as I believe the pros outweigh the cons, however it is a personal decision and comes down to your personal circumstance. If you are an experienced racer who is perfectly in tune with their rim brakes and their limits, then it probably isn’t worth the reinvestment for you, however if you are new to the world of road cycling and looking for your first bike, I strongly recommend you consider disc brakes.

The Importance of Sports Massage

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Alex Gold of Active Biomechanics gets to work on releasing a client’s quadriceps 

Sports massage is a term that you may well have heard thrown around in magazines or at club training, which can initially conjure up images of candles and whale music while a beautiful masseur lightly releases the tension in your muscles. Unfortunately this is about as far from the truth as you can get, a sports massage normally involves being taken into the spare bedroom of someone’s flat, or dumped onto a treatment table at the finish line of a race, where someone inflicts so much pain on you that many people compare it to childbirth. However as triathletes we are no strangers to pain, and these beatings should become a regular part of your training ritual.

So what is the purpose of the pain? Why should we pay someone good money to beat us within an inch of our lives? The benefit is two fold, injury prevention/treatment and addressing imbalances. Muscles will slowly tighten over weeks, months and years of training until they become so tight that they overwork another muscle group, pull on a tendon or trap a nerve, all of which can result in substantial time sat at home unable to train, every athlete’s worst nightmare. As someone who has spent the last three years battling injury, I’m trying to help people recognise how important a regular sports massage is to your training.

When you first visit a new masseur they will ask you a few questions about any injuries you’re suffering from along with a brief history of your health to allow them to treat you effectively. They will then conduct some flexibility tests which normally involve a lot of sucking of teeth in my experience, before they knuckle down with the hard work.

Normally from the initial assessment and some prodding they’ll have a good idea of what’s causing the pain. It may be that your knee pain actually comes from your glutes or your plantar problems can be traced to your hamstring, the whole kinetic chain that runs through your body is incredibly complex and it requires an experienced professional to locate where the problem is coming from. Once they’ve located the problem, they can begin the treatment.

How painful they are depends on how supple you are, if you have been training for years and never had one, you may want to find something hard to bite into for your first visit, but if you make monthly or bi-monthly visits to the treatment table the experience will be altogether more bearable. The methods of sports masseurs vary between each individual, but primarily involve applying pressure to different areas to relax and release the muscle. Often the pain of the treatment is followed by a brief moment of ecstasy as the muscle releases, before they move onto the next area and the ordeal begins again.

How much pressure they apply depends on the severity of the injury and your own tolerance for pain, I’ve had it before when a masseur has rubbed oils to my IT band which has made me whince, “You won’t like it when I get the elbow in then!” he quipped. The experienced therapist will use conversation as a means of judging how much pain you are in and how much pressure they can apply.

If you arrange treatment for a specific injury then the vast majority, if not all of the session will be spent working on that area, however if you simply ask for a tune up they will spend more time working on various areas of the body, focusing on areas that are worked heavily by your sport of choice. Prevention is better than cure, and even if you are not experiencing any significant tightness or pain, a regular massage will help keep things supple and improve your performance.

However sports massage does have its limitations, sometimes the cause of the tightness is so deep within the muscle that trigger point therapy may be able to get where a masseur’s elbow cannot, and some people even report acupuncture has helped them overcome injuries. Both of these methods are considered alternative treatment by medical bodies and results cannot be guaranteed.

Sports massage is invaluable, but there is a lot that you can do to help keep muscles supple in you day to day life. A thorough warm up and cool down for every training session is very important, it’s tempting simply to collapse over the line or through the door and spend the rest of the day horizontal, but time spent gently turning the legs over followed by some gentle stretching will help prevent injury.

You should also enlist the help of a foam roller to release tension after hard training sessions. Foam rolling techniques warrant a separate article themselves but the basics are moving the foam roller up and down the tight muscle until you find the most painful spot and holding it for 30 seconds, or until the muscle releases. This will go a long way to preventing injury, but the occasional services of a professional who can reach deep into the tissue are still important.

After three years of relentless training and racing, I have since spent three years battling injury caused by neglecting sports massage and foam rolling, and hope to save my athletes/readers from the same fate. If it’s something you’ve been meaning to get round to, now is the time to take the plunge to help avoid an injury blighted season.

The Importance of the Off Season

The off season is the period between the last race of your season and the first structured training session of the next year, it is arguably the most important part of the year for athletes, as our body needs time to rest and recover from the season of hard racing and training.

This is often a period of the year I struggle to guide some athletes through, as they instinctively want to keep training and racing, especially if this if their first few years of racing in multisport. This is partly due to a puppy dog level of excitement, they’ve found this fantastic new hobby and want to keep going, but is also linked to a fear of losing hard earned fitness from the previous year. Here we take a look at why it’s so important to coast your way through the off season and vastly reduce training volume/intensity.

First and foremost, as a species we are not meant to be active for 52 weeks of the year, the winter was traditionally a time of rest and a fight for survival, stockpiling resources and trying to stay warm. While we now have innovations such as central heating and Gore-Tex to get us through these winter months, the body still expects a period of down time each year. This is why the winter is the ideal opportunity to wind down, although if you’re big into your cyclocross and/or duathlon you may wish to skew your year slightly so it starts and finishes later.

It’s natural for us to put on a little bit of weight and take things easier for a short period over the winter, but this doesn’t have to be for the duration of the season, just a handful of weeks. This should be a minimum two weeks, and even up to 6 weeks in some circumstances, which will depend on how well you recover as an athlete. If you are a lifelong competitor in their 30s then you can probably get away with only a couple of weeks, but if you’re a masters athlete or someone who is very new to the sport and feeling run down, a six week break is preferable to throwing yourself back into training too early.

Training and competing in triathlon is hard, really hard, and it’s easy to lose sight of this. When training your body will be in a near constant state of stress, which prolonged exposure to will eventually take its toll. Overtraining is the single greatest threat to an athlete’s progress, and has bought many promising athlete’s careers to a premature end. While we’re probably not looking at fatigue on this level, we still want to turn up to race day feeling fresh and ready to go, rather than beleaguered and nonchalant about our race.

I’m going to take this opportunity to tell you about a friend of mine who I used to ride with, let’s call him Jack. Jack, was and is a very talented cyclist, we both started road cycling around the same time and we both joined a low profile cycling club in the spring of 2013. He spent the year heading out on rides with groups faster than him, hanging on by the skin of his teeth, until week after week it got easier, and he eventually started leading the faster rides himself. When November came many of us took the month off, and restarted training in December with long, easy rides, however Jack declared “I don’t believe in base training”, containing to lead rides every weekend, racing people up the hills and giving it full gas all the way through the winter. When April came Jack was so exhausted that he started suffering from chronic fatigue and had to take the rest of the summer off of the sport he loved while his body slowly recovered.

While this is something of an extreme example, it serves as a reminder of the physical dangers that come with constant training. The other side of the coin is the advantages of time off. You may be keen to crack on with next year’s training, especially if you’ve just signed up to your A race, but training solidly for 11 months ahead of your race is going to involve a lot of ups and downs, a small break of a few weeks will help you come back with a renewed hunger. This is perhaps of more importance to experienced athletes than novices who will be keen to ride the wave.

It’s an important time for goal setting and reflection as well, time away from the pool and the open road will help you remember why you started in the first place, as well as helping you question what it is you want to achieve. You’ve signed up for a big race, but why are you doing it? Why did you pick that race? What do you realistically hope to achieve? This is a good opportunity to sit down with a coach to help choose some realistic goals, and devise a plan for achieving them.

Rather than feeling destitute at the lack of training, use is as an opportunity to spend more time with your family and enjoy other active pastimes. Go for walks with your family, try a new sport which interests you such as rowing, you could even have a go at improving your weaker strokes to mix up your swimming sets. I encourage athletes to do a bit of training here and there if they feel like it, but it should be purely for enjoyment and done at a steady pace.

A coach is there not simply to set you a series of workouts every week, but to get you to the finish line in the fastest time possible, and time off at the end of the year is an important part of the process.

Do You Have What it Takes to Complete an Ironman?

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The question rattling around in the back of many people’s minds, what does it take to complete an Ironman? What follows isn’t a comprehensive list of attributes and prerequisites to complete a race, but are worth considering before you take the leap and book yourself a race entry.

Medical clearance to compete

While you do not have to be a perfect picture of health and fitness to complete your race, some ongoing conditions may require careful management during your training. People suffering with conditions such as diabetes, heart angina or even cancer have successfully completed Ironman races, but if you are in any doubt about any conditions you are currently suffering with, seek professional approval before engaging in training, and consider hiring a coach to help you manage your training in an affective manner.

Willpower

Triathlon, and especially Ironman isn’t a case of putting in the training beforehand, turning up on race day and flying around the course. It will hurt, you will think about giving up numerous times, it will push you to your limits and humble you. You are not entitled to an Ironman finish simply because you trained and paid your entry fee, you earn that title after pushing yourself above and beyond your limit, and for that you need willpower in spades.

Capital

I’m not going to try to tell you triathlon is a cheap sport, and there’s no getting around the fact that you need some money to finance your kit purchases. If you’re trying to get through on a budget you’re looking at £150 for a swimming wetsuit, £500 for a bike and £100 for a pair of trainers as the bare essentials. Add onto that race entry fees (up to £400 for an official IRONMAN event), travel, accommodation e.t.c. and you’re looking at the best part of £1500 to go from total beginner to Ironman finisher.

Time to train

This needn’t be excessive amounts, some people can complete an Ironman on 7 hours of training a week, but if you have just become a parent or are about to start a time consuming contract, it may be worth considering whether you have the time to put in the training you need. Ironman as a sport isn’t going anywhere in a hurry so it may be worth postponing for a year when you have more time to dedicate.

A support network

People in your life need to be behind you, from your friends to your partner and your parents to your boss, the more people who tolerate your reduced availability and habit of resembling a zombie at 3PM when the 6AM swim set catches up with you, the better. I hear stories about relationships which have been put under serious strain by a partner feeling abandoned by their other half who is training for a race, however I have also heard about many families who have been bought closer together by the experience, providing a role model for their children. You need people to pick you up when you’re down, kick you out the door when you’re lacking motivation, and to cheer you round the course on the day. Don’t underestimate the impact a strong support network will have on your race and preparations.

Experience in triathlon

I’m not saying your first race can’t be an Ironman, but I strongly recommend against it. There’s much more to the sport than simply stringing together a swim, bike ride and run, many lessons which you only learn on your first time out. If you aren’t interested in shorter events, than at least get a 70.3 under your belt before your first full distance. The more races you have under your belt before your Ironman the more relaxed you will be on the start line and the better positioned you are to earn that coveted title.

Motivation

I’m not talking about the kind of motivation that comes from watching a glossy video compilation on YouTube and declaring to the world that one day you will complete an Ironman, I’m talking about the kind of motivation which comes from forking out the hard cash to enter a race, and getting up at 5AM for a run. Where training for your race is more important than a boozy night out or a visit to a fast food chain. Your race has to mean something special for you to complete it. If you’re anything but completely motivated to get out and train, you’re unlikely to finish. It’s not for the faint hearted, and it’s certainly not easy. Thousands of people complete their first Ironman every year without an athletic background, but they complete the challenge because they’re hungry for it. You can’t turn up and “smash” an Ironman, you need a real hunger burning away inside of you to consistently put in the training and cross that finish line

There are very few people out there who aren’t capable of finishing an Ironman triathlon, athletes in their 80s and amputees frequently make it across the finish line, with enough passion and hunger I have every faith you can cross the line yourself.