Triathlon Race Day Success

Hopefully by the time you’re reading this your training has gone well, you’re excited, and feel nervous, yet unstoppable. However, a few mistakes on race day can really put a spanner in the works and leave you disappointed or even result in your failing to finish. All of that fitness isn’t much use if you can’t apply it onto the course, so we’re going to walk you through the confusing and sometimes stressful world of race preparation, to reduce stress and confusion on the morning itself.

It’s worth clarifying that every race has its quirks and differences. There are races which start at 7PM, are pool swims, end with a run up a mountain, mix up the disciplines and more. Don’t see this as being a guide to your race specifically as it can’t cover all possibilities, so make sure you always read the pre race information and don’t make assumptions that what you read here will happen on the day.

Two Days Before

This is the best day to organise your kit. As most races are on Sundays, by packing your kit on the Friday you not only make it a less stressful experience, you make it more likely you’ll remember something you forgot to pack, as well as give you time to replace anything missing/broken.

Here’s a recommended packing list:

  • Bike
  • Wetsuit
  • Running shoes
  • Cycling shoes
  • Trisuit
  • Goggles
  • Spare goggles
  • Second swim cap/neoprene cap (for cold swims)
  • Bodyglide
  • Helmet
  • Sunglasses
  • Suncream
  • Socks
  • Race belt
  • Tools for bike (tyre levers, spare tube (unless running tubeless), multi-tool)
  • Running cap/visor
  • Nutrition
  • Bicycle pump
  • Photo ID (for registration, normally a passport/driving license)
  • Plus anything that you specifically may want to take

Use this opportunity to read (or re-read) the athlete guide to familiarise yourself with the course and what you can expect.

The Day Before

Unless you race is very local, or you have a very late start time, I highly recommend travelling up the night before to get everything organised. unpacked, and allow for any issues on the journey there. A traffic jam, cancelled train, dead battery or minor collision could be the end of your triathlon dream.

List of Jobs
  • Rebuild bike and take it for a very short ride to check everything is working ok
  • Organise nutrition, attach it to bike/place it in clothing where applicable
  • Drive the bike course (if you own a car)
  • Walk to the swim start to get an idea of the swim course
  • Register, if possible
  • Stay hydrated
  • Eat a nutritious, easily digestible meal
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Get an early night

Race Morning

Wake up at least 2 hours before your start time, allowing more time if the venue is further away. You want to arrive with at least an hour between arriving at the venue and your start time.

Before Leaving

You’ll probably want breakfast before you leave for your race, but hotels can make this difficult, unless you are staying at a big hotel close to a big race, who will often put an early breakfast on. Breakfast is a personal choice, but I’ve had more success with gastrointestinal issues since I cut down on the lactose on race morning. We’re all lactose intolerant to a greater or lesser extent, and the emotions of race day combined with the exertion of racing can cause that big bowl of porridge to sit very heavy on the stomach, or even make a reappearance in the swim if you’re very unlucky.

This is also a good time to put your trisuit, or whatever you’re wearing for the swim on. Not many races have a dedicated changing area, and you probably don’t want to get changed in a portaloo.

Leave your accommodation with plenty of time to make it to the start. Better to be sat around in your wetsuit for another 15 minutes than to miss your start because you hit the snooze button.

Registration

If you haven’t registered yet, that should be your first port of call. You should receive the following, unless they arrived via post in the preceding days:

  • Race number
  • Wristband
  • Race number stickers
  • Timing chip

Contents may vary from race to race

Your timing chip will normally be in the form of a plastic chip on a band with a velcro closure system. This is placed on your left leg, to prevent it from interfering with the bike. Make sure you do not put this over the top of your wetsuit as not only does this increase the chances of it getting knocked off in the water, it also makes it a pain to get your wetsuit off.

The wristband allows you access into transition and will normally include your race number so marshals can check it matches the number on your bike.

Your race number usually needs to be placed on your back when cycling and your front when running. A race belt is the best solution and prevents you messing around with safety pins through your expensive tri suit.

Your race stickers belong on your bike and your helmet, and are used to identify you both on course and in race photos afterwards. They are also used to identify your bike in transition when the marshal will cross reference it with your wristband, to stop someone walking off with your pride and joy.

Setting up Transition

Your next port of call will be heading to transition where you will rack your bike, unless you did so the evening before. On your way into transition officials will check your bike’s brakes work and that you have bar plugs on your dropped handle bars, if applicable.

Some races have stickers denoting your race number on the racking, others it is a free for all. If you have the choice, rack your bike near the end of a rack to make it easier to find. Another benefit to getting there early!

To start with place your bike on the rack, which normally takes the form of a scaffolding tube. The jury is out on which way it should face, just make sure you have a plan for removing it swiftly without clouting your fellow competitors. Use this opportunity to mark sure it’s in an appropriate gear. If the bike course starts with a hill, don’t leave it in the big ring.

Next up you need to place the following items on/in front of your bike

  • Running shoes
  • Cycling shoes (if not attached to bike)
  • Race number
  • Helmet
  • Eyewear
  • Anything else you’ll need on the bike/run

Many athletes place their race number over the handle/aero bars with their race belt underneath so they have a simple system to work through, and prevent the brain fog. After 9 years of triathlon I was so stressed after the swim I forgot my race number once, so it helps to lay things out in an order which makes it hard to get things wrong.

I like to place a small, coloured towel in front of my transition area, so that when I’m disorientated after the swim I can find my bike easily.

Once your transition area is setup, it’s time to think about using the toilet. Chances are you will be feeling the need for a nervous wee, and this is the best time to relieve yourself. It may be the first of many visits between now and the start. Arriving at the start line absolutely desperate for the toilet does not set you up for race day success!

After your comfort stop, it’s time to walk the transition area. Start by finding where you’ll enter after the swim, and head over there. Picture yourself coming out of the swim. Where is your bike? Are there any landmarks you can aim for such as a tree or catering truck? After you get to your bike, which way do you run with your bike towards the start of the bike course? Repeat this for the bike in and the run out, so you can map it out in your mind, and reduce the chances of you losing time as you run the wrong way.

Final Preparations

Once your transition area is ready, it’s time to look at the details if you have time, such as your tyre pressures. It’s best you stick with what you used in training as we don’t encourage you to try anything new on race day, but if rain is forecast for the bike section, and you normally run your tyres at a very high pressure, it’s probably worth lowering them slightly to give you more grip in the corners. Try not to obsessively check your pressures, as every time you open the valve there’s a small chance of snapping it, so be careful here.

Next up we need to get our wetsuit on. Leave plenty of time for this if you are new to the sport, as it can be very time consuming, and you don’t want to be panicking that you’ll miss the start. You can find a guide on how to put your wetsuit on here: Choosing a Triathlon Wetsuit

Just make sure you ask someone else to do your suit up for you, as the last thing you want is for your zipper to break in your hands on race morning.

The Swim

What happens next depends largely on the kind of swim start the event is using.

Deep Water Start

This involves lowering yourself into the water and swimming over to the starting area, which is normally two buoys or some kayaks. You will then wait for the starting horn/klaxon to go, after which the large group of swimmers will all start at the same time. If you are a weaker swimmer, I STRONGLY suggest you place yourself at the back or the sides of the group, as placing yourself in the middle or front of the group will only result in you getting pushed underwater by other swimmers, kicked and punched. If you are especially nervous, after the klaxon sounds, count to three in your head before starting your swim.

Self Seeded Rolling Start

Increasingly popular in the age of Covid 19, these swim starts involve swimmers forming a long line based on their ability. This will often be marked with small signs denoting predicted swim times, to help ensure swimmers start in the right area. The start here is much less pronounced than deep water starts as the first swimmer enters the water on the signal of the race director, but the adrenaline will still be pumping as you slowly shuffle your way towards the water’s edge.

Beach Start

These are very rare, but it’s worth covering them nonetheless. This involves a small group of athletes lined up on a beach with a short run into the water. The athletes will wait for a starting klaxon which signals the start of the event, and a very technical, potentially dangerous entry into the water. When the first participants reach the shoreline they’ll be able to run a short distance, before it becomes too deep to run normally. From here many athletes will run and swing their legs our to the side to avoid the waves until the water gets too deep. At this point athletes will do one of two things, they will start with a slightly awkward front crawl in water that’s too shallow, or they’ll break into a dolphin kick, potentially with butterfly arms to match if they are proficient. This is the most effective way to move your body through shallow water, and is the choice of top swimmers. Once you are in deep water, it’s full steam ahead to the closest buoy.

Pontoon Start

This is the start you are least likely to encounter as an athlete, I am yet to see it used outside of a pro race, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. The athletes line up on the edge of a pontoon ready to dive in. the athletes will be told to take their marks, then a second or two later the horn will sound and the athletes will dive into the water. I have participated in races where I started holding onto the pontoon used by the pros, waiting for the signal to let go and start my swim.

In the Water

If you’re reading this, the chances are you’re new to open water swimming. You will want to stay clear of other swimmers where you can, allowing you to focus on your own race without worrying about swimming close to others. However, you also need to be aware of slower swimmers you may be about to swim into, so you can’t afford to swim in your own little world without the risk of injury or going very off course.

You may be very new or unfamiliar with freestyle (front crawl), and after a matter of minutes or seconds, you may feel panicked and need to revert to breaststroke. This is fine, you can breaststroke your way around the entire course if you need to. You can also hold onto a kayak for a rest if you want, although it’s best to ask the kayaker where the best place to hold onto is, as you don’t want to capsize them. Not only is this unpleasant for all involved, this affects the level of safety cover they can provide, and may distract from a swimmer in trouble.

Your primary goal is to make it to the first buoy, which you should have scouted out at the start of the race, and which everyone else will be heading towards. This does create a pinch point however, as everyone wants the best (closest) line to the buoy. If you are surrounded by other swimmers, it may be more beneficial to add an extra 5M onto your swim by going wide rather than swimming close to the buoy itself and risking a kick or being swum over.

You will then swim to the next buoy, then the next, and so on until you reach the swim exit. If you’re unsure which direction you should be swimming in, take a moment to do a spot of breaststroke to get your bearings rather than carrying on regardless, as this can result in your swimming way off course. I will normally sight by lifting my eyes out of the water before turning my head to breathe every 20-30 seconds to make sure I’m still on course, but this is an advanced technique, so do whatever makes you feel comfortable.

Swim Exit

Once you reach the swim exit, which should be marked by an inflatable arch, you will need to stand up. This can be tricky if the ground is rocky, slimy or deep mud underfoot. Don’t rush this, and take your time to get out of the water, there will often be volunteers to help you.

Once you are out of the water you can either run to transition if you’re feeling ok and want to be competitive, or you can take it at more of a walk if you feel very disorientated coming out of the water. Better to take it slower and make it to T1 than to rush, fall over and potentially injure yourself.

The run to T1 can be long and uphill, so don’t let the adrenaline get the better of you and shred your legs before you even get on your bike. If you are capable, now is a good time to remove your swim hat and your goggles. I like to unzip my wetsuit and roll it down to my waist so that when I get to my bike I only have to remove the legs, but this is an advanced technique.

T1

Short for transition 1, this is where you change out of your swimming gear and into your bike gear. Most athletes will be wearing tri suits which allows them to wear the same one piece suit throughout the race, and simply add the required elements for each sport. For cycling this will be your helmet, race belt, shoes and anything else you wish to wear on the bike.

In midsummer, you’re unlikely to want to wear anything else, but in spring or autumn races it can pay to have an extra layer on standby in transition in case you need it. This could be a cycling jersey, gilet, waterproof jacket or anything else you feel would offer you desired insulation. Hypothermia is no fun and will likely result in a DNF, so take the time to dress appropriately instead of rushing your transition to save a few seconds.

Next up is the question of shoes. You can wear trainers on the bike and trainers for the run which is completely fine, or you can wear special cycling shoes. If you have not trained extensively with these, do not try them for the first time on race day! Cycling shoes have a very stiff sole and clip into the pedals using a cleat (piece of plastic/metal) on the bottom of the shoes which makes them cumbersome to run in. To counter this, many athletes will leave their shoes already clipped into the bike, and mount their bike by jumping onto it while pushing it. This is known as the flying mount, and is a very high risk manoeuvre, as getting it wrong can be incredibly painful (especially for the gents) as well as potentially the end of your race if you fall hard enough or damage your bike. I recommend first timers affix their shoes next to their rack and run in the shoes awkwardly. The time lost will be pretty negligible over the course of the whole race, and most transition areas are on grass which makes it less ungainly.

After you exit transition you will be greeted with a mount line. which denotes the point from which you can ride your bike. If you are mounting your bike in the traditional fashion, pull over to the left to mount your bike, don’t stop in the middle of the race course to slowly mount your bike.

Bike

There are two main kinds of bike course, closed road and open road. Most courses will take place on an open road, where you share the road with traffic. There will most likely be points where you do not have priority or come across traffic signals, and it’s imperative that you give way in these situations. Not only is it a very bad look for the race organiser and the sport in general, it’s dangerous and will result in you being disqualified by the marshal which will inevitably be on that junction.

Each race will have drafting rules which must be followed. Drafting is the act of riding behind another cyclist to use their slipstream as a competitive advantage. Many races will have different rules regarding this, make sure you familiarise yourself with them and don’t get sucked into doing it because everyone else is, or you could find yourself landed with a penalty. If you are overtaken by a faster athlete, it’s your job to fall back outside the drafting zone.

The bike will be the first time in the race that many of you will feel comfortable, but don’t make the mistake of using this as a chance to drop the hammer too hard, and exhaust yourself early in the event. You may feel you’re a third of the way through after finishing the swim, but the reality is that you probably still have three quarters of the race ahead of you.

While on the bike route, it’s important that you stay to whichever side of the route you are racing on, unless overtaking. This not only means faster athletes can pass you, but it also means you’ll be able to pass athletes who are slower than you without issue. Whenever you are riding, always look over your shoulder before overtaking, as you never know if another cyclist or car could be in that space, or about to move into it. If in doubt, hang back until it’s safe to take the move.

There will be hills on the course, whether gentle or steep, and pacing these will make a huge difference to our bike split. If you are riding on the flats at a heart rate of 140BPM, then you sprint up a hill at 170BPM, that will be a huge effort and take several minutes to overcome. Make too many of these big efforts on the hills and you’ll be exhausted before you start the run. Instead, it’s smarter to use your gears to ride up them with the minimum effort required to get over the hill. This will still increase your heart rate, but allow you to get straight back to racing once you hit the bottom of the descent, rather than freewheeling with burning lungs for a few minutes.

If your race is going to take you over the 90 minute mark, you’ll probably want something to eat on the bike, to replace the energy stores depleted from racing. This can take whatever form you wish, but energy gels are popular for being a small to carry, calorie intensive solution which is easy to digest in most cases, but can sit on some athlete’s stomachs, so make sure you try these before the big day.

Don’t take any risks in the corners unless you know your tyres well, and consider the rest of the race when determining your pacing strategy. Are you a confident runner who can pull a fast run leg out of the bag even on tired legs? Or are you dreading the run, unsure if you’ll be able to finish? These will help determine your pacing strategy, as will your overall goals. Just don’t let your ego get in the way, those around you may be making mistakes, so don’t feel you need to follow them.

T2

As you approach the end of the bike, it’s time to think about your dismount. There will be a dismount line in the same manner as the mount line, which both your feet must touch before you cross. Failure to do so would result in a penalty. For most athletes, this will be a case of pulling over a few feet from the line, dismounting as normal and running to your rack.

Once you locate your racking you can return your bike and remove your helmet. If you are still wearing cycling shoes you’ll need to remove these and replace with running shoes. Elastic laces are a must have here, they generally cost under £10 and save you a lot of time, especially if your hands are slightly cold following the bike.

Once your shoes are on, you can put a running cap/visor on if you wish, then make your way towards the start of the run course which should be marked “run out”.

Run

Now it’s a footrace to the finish line, and the simplest of disciplines in many ways, you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other until you reach the finish line.

However, there’s a difference between a run, and a run at the end of a triathlon, as you’re about to find out. The chances are your legs will feel a bit wooden and your stride length may be shorter after the bike. Hopefully this will pass in time if you’ve done enough brick sessions in your training, but if running isn’t your strong suite anyway, it could be a slog to the finish line.

Along the way there will probably be at least one chance to take on fluids, maybe even some snacks at some races. Many athletes will walk these sections, allowing them a short break as well as a chance to eat/drink in more comfort. If it’s an especially hot day, you can use this as an opportunity to cool yourself by dousing yourself with water.

Many run courses will have distance markers which dictate how far you are into the course. This may not align with your GPS watch, but if in doubt you should listen to the markers on course. GPS data gets confused if lots of watches are in close proximity, and the course will have been measured manually with a wheel, so is more likely to be accurate.

When they going gets tough, make sure you’re standing upright, looking ahead, and picking your feet up. If you have to walk, you have to walk, and there’s no shame in this. You’re still doing better than everyone sat at home.

The Finish Line

At smaller events this may just be denoted by a couple of cones, at larger events it will be a showpiece which funnels you into a finishing area.

After you cross the line you will be presented with a medal, and hopefully some water/snacks to help you refuel. You will need to remove the timing chip around your ankle and return it to avoid a bill from the organiser for a replacement.

At larger events you may be taken into a marquee with T-shirts, massage, food and benches to help you recover, at smaller events you’ll simply be able to walk out and back to your transition area, where you can collect your bike and make your way home with a medal round your chest and heart full of pride.

Gift Ideas for Triathletes

Triathletes need a lot of equipment to participate in their races, and the costs can get out of hand quickly. There’s always something else they could, or feel they should have, but gift ideas for triathletes can be tricky as there is so much to choose from. What would they appreciate, and what would end up stuffed at the back of their kit drawer? We’ll take you through the options available for various budgets, starting with items not to fall into the trap of buying.

I have included images of products here to help non triathletes identify the products in question. These are not endorsements, simply the brands and products most readily available and most likely to be found in stores.

Items to avoid

This isn’t to say you can’t but they these items at all, but you’d need to communicate carefully with your partner before purchasing

Replica Cycling Jerseys

You’d be forgiven for thinking that someone who spends a lot of time on their bike would appreciate a replica yellow jersey or the strip of his favourite cycling team, but this is generally a no no to be seen wearing. Unless you ride for the team or are currently leading the Tour de France, it makes you look like a bit odd, so it may be resigned to the wardrobe indefinitely. Think of it as the equivalent of someone who turns up to a local 5 a side game with friends in full Manchester United kit.

If you want to treat them to a jersey, pay attention to the brand and sizing of the jerseys they wear most often.

Shoes

This includes both running shoes and cycling shoes. The fit of a pair of shoes is paramount, with different shoes fitting different feet. If they have a wide foot, narrow foot, need more space in the toe box, have issues with their Achilles or require a certain level of support/cushioning, these all have to be taken into consideration. The running shoes you found online may look nice and snazzy, but the last thing you’d want is for them to pick up an injury because of the shoes you bought them. It’s unlikely they’d hold it against you, but you’d probably feel guilty.

Even purchasing a like for like replacement for a worn shoe may be problematic, as models can change slightly from year to year.

Helmets

An aerodynamic helmet is at an appealing price point for many to get as a ‘big’ present for their partner, often coming in around the £100-£200 mark. However, different helmets fit different heads, and when we’re looking at a piece of protective equipment, we want to make sure it’s doing its job.

I know from experience my head is a narrow shape, so certain brands of helmet work very well for me. Other helmets on the other hand sit on my head like a pudding bowl and move around a lot, compromising the protection in the event of a crash. This is nothing against any specific manufacturers, it’s just that they can’t all make helmets which fit everyone’s head.

Cycling Safety Products

This helmet cover is a good way to get very hot, very quickly

This is a controversial one, but bear with me here. You obviously care about the safety of the athlete you’re buying for, but the majority of cycle safety equipment isn’t very good, and is aimed more at cycling commuters who ride short distances than athletes who will be in the saddle for several hours. Whether it’s a mirror attachment for their helmet, an oversized daylglo yellow jacket, high visibility helmet cover or a set of indicators for their bike, they’re unlikely to want to wear these while out training unless they have expressed an interest in these products before. I have a very high quality high visibility cycling jacket (worth £180), four very powerful lights I run on my bike and numerous reflective details on my my person to make sure nobody misses me when riding in the dark. I take my visibility seriously, but many of these products are low quality and won’t last very long.

Bikes

If you have the budget, you could be forgiven for thinking a bike would be a great gift idea for a triathlete. However, choosing a bike is a very personal and very complicated process as you can see in my article here. If you would like to treat the triathlete in your life to a new bike, work closely with them on making the decision, don’t just wrap one up, stick it under the Christmas tree and hope for the best.

Wetsuits

The fit of a wetsuit is even more personal than that of a bike, so as above, make sure you work closely with the athlete before you take the plunge here. You don’t want them to struggle to breathe due to a high neckline, or get pulled out of the water because their suit has filled with water.

Cycling Themed Oddities

In the past I have received gifts based simply on the fact it has a bike on it, is bike themed, or is supposed to be used by cyclists. In some cases these have been amusing, interesting or useful, but in most cases they go straight to the back of the cupboard. An especially memorable example was being gifted a tin of “cycling mints”, which were just a small tin of mints, with a sticker of a bicycle on the top. I don’t even like mints.

Stocking Fillers

Next up are cheap, small items it’s hard to go wrong with. This is a mixture of one size fits all or easily sized clothing, expendable items and more that every triathlete will appreciate. These are a good shout if you don’t know the athlete that well or you want to supplement larger gifts.

Socks

Who doesn’t love socks? As these sizing here is much easier than other items, you can buy thee with confidence. Running socks, cycling socks and even compression socks come in a variety of fun designs and colours. As these will be on high rotation, an athlete can never have enough.

Cycling Cap

Perfect for the winter months, this keeps the rain off your head and retains the heat at the same time. One size fits all so you can’t go wrong here.

Cycling Lubricant

The chain on a bicycle requires regular lubrication to ensure optimal running and to extend the life of the components. Triathletes can get through this pretty quickly, especially in bad weather, so make a note of the brand they use and buy them a top up. There’s a small chance they could wax their chain instead of using lubricant, so this might be worth investigating first. I recommend wet lube in all but the driest of conditions.

Bike Cleaner and Degreaser

These are standard expendables which every triathlete will be using to keep their bike in good working order. If they don’t need it now, they will in the coming months. The gift set pictured would go down very well with most cyclists, as even the brushes will wear over time.

Inner tubes

Assuming the athlete in your life uses inner tubes (and not tubeless or tubular tyres), a few extras are always welcome, though hardly the most exciting gift so make sure you already these with something else. Avoid latex inner tubes unless they have expressed a preference in the past.

Black Witch

It’s impossible to use a wetsuit without accidentally nicking it with your nails at some point. This damage is largely superficial, but there’s always the chance it could be made worse with time and cause real damage to the suit. A spot of this will repair the damage, but it’s unlikely a triathlete will ever use more than one tube in a lifetime, so make sure they don’t have any before you buy.

Cheaper Presents

These are generally presents between the £20 and £50 mark. These should definitely put a smile on their face

Multi Tool

These are compact tools cyclists take with them to fix mechanicals out on the open road. You can get them for cheap, but a more expensive, lightweight multi tool with added functionality (such as the one above) is a great gift.

Goggles

Goggles are very personal, so make a note of the pair they currently use, and look to replace them with a like for like pair. All goggles have a limited lifespan due to the lenses fogging up over time, so there’s never a bad time to replace them.

Triathlon Books

Buying someone a book on training, the history of triathlon or the biography of a prominent athlete is a great way to help them engage with the sport. Many triathletes are more kit focused, so may not consider spending money here.

Stock Training Plan

If your athlete is currently making things up as they go alone, they will probably appreciate a structured training plan to follow. We have a small (but growing) collection you can view here, you can also head to the TrainingPeaks webstore to find a plan to suit them and their needs. Plans for shorter events are generally cheaper than those for longer events.

Torque Wrench

This is an expensive bike tool that is used to ensure athletes don’t damage their bike when performing maintenance. They set the torque setting to the number denoted on the component they’re tightening, and tighten until the wrench won’t let them tighten any more. This can save athletes hundreds of pounds in damaged parts from over tightening.

Pool Toys

This is a broad category including pull buoys, fins, hand paddles, ankle bands, snorkels and more. Ideally you don’t want to duplicate items they already own, so have a look in their swim bag to check what they already own, as long as you don’t think they’ll mind.

Running Shorts

Athletes will accumulate a large collection of race T-shirts over the years, so they won’t be wanting for anything to cover their upper body, but they’ll probably only have a couple of pairs of running shorts on rotation.

Swimming Costume

Whether it’s a full costume, jammers or a pair of speedos, all of our swimwear is damaged over time by the chlorine in the pools we swim in. There are lots of fun designs out there and sizing is fairly easy, so these make a good gift. Make sure these are performance items however, rather than loose fitting or revealing, designed for days lounging at the pool rather than hard swimming.

Mid Range Gifts

If it’s you want to spend a bit more, these gifts should really stand out and show how much you care. These are between £50 and £200

Stryd Footpod

For the data driven triathlete this is a great investment to help them improve their running. An understanding of mathematics and time available to invest in learning how it works are required for them to get the most out of it, but it’s a great investment in them and their training rather than simply buying lighter or more aerodynamic kit.

Phazon Triathlon Consultation

For £75 we can look at the triathlete in your life’s training history, help them create a long term plan for their training and make recommendations on the best way to help them achieve their goals. If they’re new to the sport and don’t have much of a training history we can instead use the time to answer questions, recommend kit to suit their needs and otherwise assist them with their triathlon journey.

Running Vest

For longer runs it’s important to stay hydrated, and the best option for most runners is a vest with soft flasks attached which allows you to run without having to hold bottles. There’s also pockets for your keys, snacks and a waterproof so it’s a good all rounder.

Waterproof Jacket

Cycling jerseys and shorts are pretty personal, but waterproof jackets for cycling and/or running are normally relatively expensive and easier to size, as they don’t have to be skintight. The more you pay, the longer it will keep the rain off for and the more breathable it will be. Cheaper jackets are known as “boil in a bag” for a reason. Jackets for running and cycling aren’t generally interchangeable, and their everyday waterproof will be too bulky.

Bike Lights

When cycling in the daytime it helps to have a couple of small lights blinking to ensure drivers spot cyclists, but at night these become an essential. I recommend a small set of blinking lights to grab the attention of drivers, and two larger steady lights to allow drivers to gauge the speed of the rider. If they’re planning to do riding on unlit roads a big, powerful light is important to allow them to see the road (or trail) in front of them. A decent set of lights isn’t cheap, so would make a nice gift.

Coached Session

Many coaches like myself offer one off coached sessions to help athletes improve their technique, skills or help push them harder than before. This could be in the pool, on a running track or even held virtually in some cases.

Premium Gifts

If it’s a big birthday or you simply have the disposable income, you could consider the following gifts that tend to come in over £200.

Sports Watch

Garmin, Polar, Suunto and Wahoo all produce high quality sports watches which are used to record your workouts and provide meaningful insights. Their range is normally updated every year or two, so if they don’t have the latest model it could be a nice upgrade for them. Expect to pay north of £300 for their latest top of the range model.

Turbo Trainer

These are all but essential for the serious athlete, allowing them to ride their bike all year round in a time efficient manner. Prices start around the £600 for a direct drive smart trainer, which I highly recommend. Alternatively, if they have the space, a dedicated indoor bike could be an option, thought these tend to come in at closer to £2000 and there can be some fiddling around involved to get it to match the setup of your race bike.

Race Wheels

The wheels that come on bikes are heavy but generally quite durable. You can get lighter, more aerodynamic models which improve speed on race day quite considerably, for a price. These are a very complicated subject, so I recommend you communicate closely with the athlete before purchasing. Expect to pay north of £800 for a half decent set.

Custom Training Plan

We provide training plans based on an athlete’s strengths, time available, target event and equipment available to get them into the best shape possible. For £15 a week we can build a personalised plan delivered via TrainingPeaks to help get them to the finish line. Overall price depends on the length of the plan, you can find details here

Bike Fit

Buying a state of the art bike is all well and good, but if you can’t ride it comfortably you’re not going to enjoy it. A good bike fit helps you ride faster in more comfort, and is worth its weight in gold. Make sure you go to a dedicated bike fitter, and expect to spend at least £150 for a full fit. If someone spent 20 minutes setting a bike up when it was purchased this is better than nothing but does not constitute a proper bike fit.

Conclusion

Shopping for triathletes can be difficult, but if in doubt I highly recommend you talk to them about your planned purchases. You may not get to see the surprise and joy on their face when they open their gift, but you will avoid any awkward moments or the disappointment that comes from seeing the gift you went over budget on collecting dust in the garage.

Introduction to Running Power

Often the butt of many jokes on Twitter and dismissed by many experienced athletes, I believe it’s a misunderstood technology which can provide an athlete with unparalleled insight into their training. 

The running power meter was inspired by the bicycle power meter, which collects data from a strain gauge in a pedal, crank arm or wheel hub to calculate how much force is being applied by the athlete. This allows them to pace and race better on hills, into headwinds, at altitude and in the heat. The running power meter is not a true power meter in the respect that it is based on an algorithm, using accelerometers rather than a strain gauge. Combined with the pace at which an individual is running to generate a number measured in watts, this gives the athlete an insight into how much energy they are expending to achieve forward momentum. 

As a runner, I would put money on you having trained with pace, heart rate and RPE in the past. So to start with I’ll break the pros and cons of each method down to help you make the right decision for your training.

RPE
A runner participating in a race

Rate of perceived exertion is how hard you feel you are running, whether you are going eyeballs out in a race (RPE of 10) of gently jogging along on an easy run (RPE of around 4). It’s an important skill to develop for runners of all abilities even if they also use technology, as data doesn’t have all the answers and can fail at any point.

Pros:

  • If you are having a bad day, RPE will make sure you don’t over exert yourself and push you towards exhaustion or overtraining
  • It removes the risk of setting targets that are too high/low for an event
  • Free

Cons:

  • Newer runners will struggle to understand what their bodies are telling them, and may be based on what they perceive as “getting a good workout” rather than achieving the goals of the session
  • Will cause most runners to head out too fast when fresh, then fade as they didn’t pace themselves well enough 
  • Difficult to accurately measure training load, fitness or fatigue
  • Requires many years of experience to dial in, and even then the best of us make mistakes
Heart Rate
A pair of heart rate monitors

Pros:

  • Heart Rate gives us an unparalleled insight to how the body is performing, if your heart rate is outside of normal parameters, your body is trying to tell you something. This helps us avoid overtraining by pushing too hard
  • Relatively inexpensive, most modern running watches will come with a heart rate monitor built in or come with a free chest strap
  • Tracking your heart rate over time provides a valuable insight into how well your body is adapting to exercise.

Cons:

  • There is a large delay between your body’s exertion and and an increase in heart rate, so it is difficult to use it to pace races with lots of hills/surges as the feedback isn’t immediate, and your heart rate may continue to rise for up to 30 seconds after a tough section
  • Lots of factors outside of training can artificially inflate our heart rate. A lack of sleep, high levels of stress, temperature, altitude and mensural cycle to name but a few will all affect our heart rate and may result in us running faster/slower than we should
  • Prone to dropouts or false readings. Where 10BPM is a huge difference, battery or connection issues can leave you vulnerable
  • Sticking to heart rate based training can be incredibly frustrating for new athletes as they feel they need to walk to keep their heart rate in the correct zone
Pace
A Garmin wristwatch displaying a pace field

Pace is probably the most popular method of measuring running intensity, and is still the most important. If I put a running power meter on the foot of every athlete starting a 5K run, the winner wouldn’t be the one who put out the highest number of watts or the best horizontal power, it would be the one who ran the fastest. However there are issues when using a GPS watch to measure pace

Pros:

  • Cheap, comes with all fitness tracking devices, or you can use you phone
  • The winner of the race is the athlete who runs the fastest, so it’s the purest way of tracking intensity

Cons:

  • GPS watches can lose signal, or struggle to find it in areas such as woodland or around high rise buildings
  • Large events place so much strain on GPS systems that they cannot keep up. This resultis in athlete’s watches giving false readings, and getting out of sync with the race organiser’s distance markers. This can result in widespread confusion and frustration
  • GPS watches are very sensitive to changes in direction. They expect you to continue running in a straight line, so making a U turn or sharp corner can leave the GPS struggling to catch up
  • It does not take gradient or headwind into account, if you are running up a hill or down a hill, pace data is of very little use
  • Susceptible to headwinds
Power
A Stryd run pod

Finally, this brings us onto the running power meter, which for my money goes a long way to correcting the flaws of other methods:

Pros:

  • Takes hills and wind into account (new generation Stryd only)
  • Provides advanced running metrics such as stride length, ground contact time, running efficiency, form power and leg spring stiffness
  • Reliable data in all situations
  • Measures distance precisely using the accelerometer inside the power meter, giving you an exact pace rather than GPS estimate
  • Allows you to track improvements easily
  • Unparalleled treadmill accuracy

Cons:

  • Can be confusing at first, requires time investment
  • Expensive, at £200 for a Stryd unit, on top of a compatible watch, it’s a definite investment in your running
  • The data can become all consuming, and athletes run the risk of losing sight of the bigger picture (running faster)
  • Any long term changes in athlete weight require re-calibration and redundancy of previous data
  • Can be tricky to use if you are aiming for a specific finish time

The biggest benefit for running power for me is consistency and the low margin for error. While the algorithm behind running power is up for scrutiny, as long as the data that is outputted is consistent that’s the most important thing. Whether an athlete is running on a treadmill, up an alpine pass, a road marathon or simply on a jog with friends, I know I have good data which represents their effort, using it to track improvements and calculate fatigue.

Hopefully that has given you an insight into the advantages of using running power over other methods, next up I’m going to delve into a bit more of the science:

What is running power?

Running power is measured in the arbitrary measurement of a running watt. This is a combination of force (in newtons) and speed (metres per second), with higher numbers translating into faster running. When you hit a hill the power meter will recognise this and increase the power to represent the additional effort you are using to fight gravity, while on the downhills it will recognise the gravitational assist and lower the power number to represent the reduced level of force you are having to generate yourself. This helps us pace our runs much more accurately.

Training with Running Power

Hopefully by now the concept sounds appealing at the very least. So how do you get started? First off you need a running power meter. I would recommend against any power meter which generates numbers based on speed derived from a GPS signal. This will normally involve an algorithm which looks at your cadence and your speed to generate an estimation of power. For my money though, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. Running power in itself is an algorithm, so an algorithm that is required to generate another algorithm has a large margin of error. I use a Stryd footpod which is the most popular running power meter available currently, and will be writing the rest of this article on the assumption this is what you are using.

These numbers, like those from a cycling power meter are fairly meaningless without a benchmark. Is 250W a lot? What should you be hitting in your intervals? Is there a number you should be staying below during your event? When is your run too easy? To find the answer to these questions, we need to find a threshold, a point where an effort becomes unsustainable. The simplest way to use this is to use the Stryd auto CP (critical power) calculator, which harvests the data from all of your runs to give you an estimation of your ability. It’s important you feed it a variety of data points, from sprints to 5Ks and long runs. Don’t expect an accurate number after a few easy runs.

A graph illustrating a runner's personal bests across various timeframes, used to calculate a run power threshold
The WKO5 power duration curve informing us that this runner’s threshold is 231W

Zone training is nothing new as we have zones for pace and heart rate, but the fact that threshold is calculated by looking at thousands of data points rather than a single point, means our threshold is more accurate. It also updates automatically with time. Smash out a big hill session which included your best two minute power? Your threshold may improve by a couple of watts. Absolutely storm that cross country race? You may see a nice big boost to represent that. It’s important to note that these are based on a 90 day rolling average, so any data older than 90 days will disappear. This can result in sudden increases/decreases to your threshold power even if you’ve spent the day on the sofa.

The way our power threshold updates itself automatically reduces the need for formal testing every 6-8 weeks to check for improvements, which is arguably the biggest benefit of running power for me, ensuring your threshold is always up to date.

Indoor Running

I don’t like running on a treadmill, and I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that you don’t like it either, but sometimes it’s a necessary evil. This can be due to the weather or when we’re in a country where wearing sports clothing in public is not appropriate. One of the frustrating issues I encounter as a coach is accurately recording treadmill workouts. Treadmills vary significantly in accuracy, and the indoor running mode included on sports watches leaves a lot to be desired.

You may be lucky enough to have access to an indoor running facility such as a sprint track or even a full 400M. The lack of GPS signal can be a issue if we want detailed information from our session, but a running power meter provides us with all the information we need, without the GPS accuracy issues which plague even outdoor tracks.

Running with power is the perfect way to record your indoor runs as we get meaningful figures that can be directly compared to your outdoor runs. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if you’re a serious runner who trains indoors regularly, a power meter is an essential purchase.

My preferred way to train on the treadmill is using Zwift, software which takes you through a virtual world as you run where you can join races and complete workouts. It’s free for runners and pairs with your power meter, so download it and give it a go.

A runner on a treadmill in front of a screen displaying Zwift, which she is using to record her run
Image copyright Zwift

Post Run Analysis

A graph depicting various data points during a run
Fatigue Indicators Chart developed by Steve Palladino, available on WKO5

Once you get back from your run your watch will upload your data to an analysis platform of choice. Most software now supports running power, however the level of support varies considerably. If you are a basic user the Stryd Power Centre will offer enough information for you, with the bonus of being free, although they will be offering a premium subscription in the near future to access some features. TrainingPeaks offers some basic functionality, but if you are a serious runner only looking to analyse data, and have little to no interest in purchasing a TrainingPlan then I recommend using WKO instead. It costs the same as a year of TrainingPeaks premium with far greater support for running power. There’s a steep learning curve however, so if you’re a recreational runner this is probably overkill.

Assuming your threshold is accurate, you will be able to see in detail how hard you ran. This data will be far more insightful than pace or heart rate, and pick up small, rapid changes much better, such as jumping over a fallen tree or sprinting for a couple of strides to make it across the road before the lights turn green. While these aren’t necessarily actionable data points, the power meter ensures that these efforts are recorded and reflected in your training load calculations. 

If you are so inclined, you can take a real deep dive into your data looking at the advanced metrics offered by WKO where you can see your leg spring stiffness, duty factor, percentage of power generated horizontally or vertically, and all manner of other metrics, which I’m not going to go into here.

Two metrics that are worth paying attention to however are running efficiency and horizontal power. 

Running efficiency (RE) looks at how effective you are at turning watts into speed. As you may remember, higher speed means higher watts, but you can also create power simply by jumping up and down on the spot, so this metric looks at how efficient you are. Running efficiency is quite a finite metric, but when running at threshold, anything below 0.97 requires improvement, 1.0 is a good score, and 1.03 or above is likely the realm of elite runners. An improvement in RE over time at the same pace/power suggests that you are improving as a runner.

Percentage of power generated in a horizontal plane (or horizontal power) tells you how much power generated is transferred into forward momentum. As mentioned above, you can create power by jumping up and down on the spot, which would create 0% horizontal power, and 100% vertical power. You can’t create 100% horizontal power, but if you can get it up to around 75-80% this suggests you are moving fluidly.

These metrics will vary from run to run, and will be lower on easy or hilly runs so make sure you’re only comparing these with like for like runs.

The real danger here is getting lost in the numbers and over analysing every single data point, or believing you aren’t capable of more than the software’s predictions. We should still be runners at heart, hitting the roads/trails for fun and the challenge of pushing our limits. Running power data is so in depth we can run the risk of becoming data analysts first instead of athletes.

Running Power for Triathlon

So, if you’re a triathlete, how does this fit into your training? How can you use it to run faster off the bike? The answer is in form power.

When we run off the bike we’re never going to run as well as we will at a standalone event. Depending on your event and ability you may be up to ten hours into the race at this point, and your legs will be stiff from the repeated pedalling action on the bike. Your mobility may be impaired and your legs will be fatigued. This can mean you find yourself not running as quickly as you’d hoped. Add to this the accumulation of fatigue over the rest of the run and we’re looking at a very different picture to training.

Running power takes this into account, recognising that you’re putting in the effort, even if you’re not travelling as quickly as you would normally. This is form power, it looks at the vertical and lateral movement from the foot compared to the horizontal power which we touched on above. While generating a high amount of form power is bad news for our running, what’s worse is not taking this into account and pushing harder because we feel we’re slacking off.

This becomes imperative to our pacing. We may know we can hold 5:00 for a marathon when fresh, but after a hard 180Km on the bike this may be 5:20, maybe even 5:30. If we stick to our guns (and pride) aiming for 5:00 per KM we could well be slowly running ourselves into the red and find ourselves walking. Aiming for a power target instead takes our loss of form into account, ensuring we focus on what our body is doing, as opposed to what we think it should be doing.

Conclusion

So, you may be wondering why more people don’t run with power at this point. I’ll break down a few most common issues people have with running power

Elite athletes don’t use it

It’s true, not many professional runners use Stryd, with some notable exceptions such as Ben Kanute and Olympic Triathlon Champion Gwen Jorgennson. More often than not this is the choice of their coach rather than the athlete, who will adapt an “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. Truth be told, if I had an athlete who was winning races training with pace and/or heart rate, I probably wouldn’t suggest they switch to running power. Elite athletes are often training at a level where they can’t afford to try something new, especially going into an Olympic year, so they stick to what they know.

Technophobes

Some very successful coaches out there won’t even want their athletes to wear watches. They’ll stand next to the start/finish line of a track with their stopwatch, barking splits out to runners as they complete every lap. While this is an extreme example, many coaches who qualified in the 20th Century aren’t interested in opening their minds to new training methods. There is nothing inherently wrong with this if they’ve been coaching for 30 years and had great success with their current methods, but they may not be getting the most out of their athletes.

This also extends to athletes who may not understand what running power is, how to set it up, or how to use it to make themselves faster, to them it’s just a number that appears on their watch. I hope to demystify it in more detail with more articles in future.

Just not appealing

For some, training with heart rate and pace is enough, or even too much in some cases. If you live a very busy life and don’t have the time, headspace or inclination to look through your numbers after a run. For some, running is a time for them to switch off, lose themselves in nature, or blow off some steam, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s not a “mature technology”

It’s true that our understanding of running power is accelerating at a rapid pace, in fact it could be argued that the entire concept is in beta testing with rapid developments and new interpretations of the data on a regular basis. The concept is based on an algorithm and it’s hard to see how that could be changed currently, so it’s hard to see it becoming as reliable as cycling power any time soon. That being said, look at the way Team Sky and British Cycling advanced the knowledge of cycling power, first developed in the 80s, to emerge as a dominant force in 2012. There is a lot of potential in running power, and early adopters with the right guidance can capitalise on its benefits.

Early versions were poor

Running power meters first arrived on the scene back in 2015, and by the company involved’s own admission more recently, left a lot to be desired. New generations have improved the accuracy and the stability of running power significantly.

The best thing of all though? Just because you record running power doesn’t mean you can’t also run with pace, heart rate or RPE. You can record all four at once, and choose whichever you want to dictate the intensity of your workout. Following a MAF plan? Increases in power can reassure you the training is working.

It may be you want a running power meter simply to record your pace more accurately, or you’re only interested in a single metric such as leg spring stiffness or horizontal power. As with everything in our sport, you only need to take it as seriously as you want. If you have the cash I recommend you give it a go though, it may be just what you need to take your running to the next level.

Further Reading

There are limited resources out there for running power, but I have a few recommendations:

Palladino Power Project

Steve Palladino is an accomplished running coach who has invested heavily in running power, and has created a Facebook group to act as an open forum to discuss running power. With up to date information and good discussions, I recommend you join: https://www.facebook.com/groups/PalladinoPowerProject

Run With Power by Jim Vance

Unfortunately this book is slightly out of date now and I’m hoping for a second edition, but it’s still the primary source of information for running power.

Cover of "Run with Power" book

The Secret of Running by Hans van Dijk and Ron van Megen

This is a more up to date book which includes useful information on Running Power

Cover of "The Secret of Running book"

Stryd Materials

As a company, Stryd have done a good job of creating a number of resources for runners. This includes articles on their website, their podcast and their Facebook group where runners can ask questions and discuss training with Stryd staff https://www.facebook.com/groups/strydcommunity

I hope this has opened your eyes to the potential benefits of running with power. If you have a running power meter and are struggling to understand your data, why not book in a coaching consultation with us here where we can talk you through the process and help get your training on track.

Choosing a Road Cycling Cassette

Also known as a sprocket or rear block by newer riders, choosing a road cycling cassette is probably one of the most underrated ways to improve your riding, especially on the hills.

So, what are the most important factors here? We’ll look at the following factors:

  • Range of cassette
  • Size of biggest/smallest cogs
  • Cassette weight

Range of cassette

A cassette will either be described by cyclists as wide or narrow. A wide cassette has a large range, meaning the differences between your biggest and smallest gears will be large. This allows you to ride fast on the flats and still ride at a sensible cadence on the hills. Meanwhile a narrow cassette will make it much harder to ride up hills, as the rings tend to have fewer teeth.

If a cyclist is looking for one cassette to use in all situations I recommend a cassette with a wide range. You never know when you might find yourself at the bottom of a leg sapping climb on tired legs with no gears left. A narrow cassette is generally only used for specific events like flat triathlons or time trials. The small gaps between gears helps you find your “Goldilocks” gear while wide cassettes can make it hard to get comfortable if you’re forever in a gear slightly too hard or too slightly too easy.

As an example, an 12 speed 11-23 has rings with the following number of teeth: 11/12/13/14/15/16/17/18/19/21/23. In comparison a 32-11 has 11/12/13/14/16/18/20/22/25/28/32. If I was riding on my 11-32 at a power which suited a 15 tooth cog gear on the back, I’d have to choose between a 14 tooth or a 16 tooth, where if I was riding an 11-23 I could ride in the 15 tooth cog I was after. If you’re riding on rolling terrain this isn’t such an issue as you’ll never be in the same gear for long enough for it to be noticeable. But if you’re taking on a flat course such as Ironman Barcelona, you don’t want to spend 180KM unable to find a comfortable gear.

Range is intrinsic to the size of your biggest ring, which we’ll look at next.

Size of biggest/smallest rings

Cassettes are expressed numerically, such as 12-28 or 11-32. The first number refers to the smallest ring, the larger number to the biggest ring.

If choosing a road cycling cassette for a series of punishing climbs you’ll want to take a 28 at the very least. Potentially even a 30 or 32 if it’s an especially hilly ride.

23 is the lowest number of teeth you’re likely to find on the biggest ring of most cassettes. This is only recommended for strong cyclists riding on flat courses. 25 is traditionally what a lot of professional riders will use, dropping to 28s on mountain stages. For us mortals however 28 is a sensible all round cassette as we don’t have the power to push round a 25 tooth cog on a steep grade without wobbling all over the road.

The smallest rings are generally 11 or 12t (the t denoting number of teeth). These won’t make an enormous difference to your riding unless you’re planning to ride hard on the downhills.

Weight of cassette

Some cassettes cost £50 and some cost well over £300 (Campagnolo we’re looking at you). So what’s the difference? Assuming it’s the same brand and has the same number of gears/teeth, it’s just the weight. You can buy an expensive cassette to shave off a few grams, but that really is it. Shimano’s cheapest 11 speed 11-28 cassette, the 105, weighs in at 284g, with their top of the range Dura-Ace equivalent topping the scales at 192g. The 105 cassette retails at £50, the Dura-Ace at £199, so this is a very expensive way to save <100g. There may be minute differences in shifting performance, but you’re unlikely to notice them if your gears are indexed properly.

Weight data courtesy of https://ccache.cc/blogs/newsroom/2019-road-groupset-weight-comparison

Conclusion

If I were to advise a new road cyclist, I’d recommend an 11-28 at the very least to help them up the hills. As they get stronger or if they live somewhere with very few hills they might consider a 25. I would only recommend a 23 for competition day, or race simulation rides, as the ability to get up a hill efficiently far outweighs the benefit of the smaller jumps in gears for me.

Most road cyclists will acquire a collection of cassettes over the years. This gives them the flexibility to choose the right cassette for different rides. I wouldn’t necessarily swap between a 30 for my hilly training rides and my 25 on flat training rides, but if I had a big ride (100 miles plus) or a race, I’d take the time to choose the right tool for the job.

Technical info

Hopefully we’ve enlightened you to the benefits of choosing a road cycling cassette. But before you go and place your order, some really boring stuff. It’s easy to buy a cassette incompatible with your bike, so make sure you avoid the following pitfalls

Manufacturers are generally not cross compatible. Some Shimano and SRAM products will work with each other, but check with your bike shop before buying. Campagnolo is not compatible with any other manufacturer.

Make extra sure you’re buying a cassette which has the right number of gears. As both 11 and 10 speed cassettes are still expressed as 12-28, this is an easy trap to fall into. To complicate matters, older versions of group sets have less gears, so make extra certain it’s the product you’re after before ordering. Each generation of a groupset will have a code (such as Shimano R7000), so make sure you’re getting the right kit. It’s worth checking with your bike shop if you’re unsure what you have on your bike. As long as you order it through them, they’ll be happy to help.

The cassette that was on your bike when you bought it is often the largest it can take. If you want to go above this you’ll need to upgrade to a long cage rear mech. This isn’t an expensive upgrade, but it’s best to order and install the parts together to save on labour costs if you’re unsure how to do it yourself.

Finally, your cassette is a consumable part and will wear over time. The best way to prevent this is to keep your drivetrain clean. Find out how in our article here

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What Will the 2021 Triathlon Season Look Like?

Image copyright Ironman

The 2020 triathlon season has been the strangest we’ve ever seen, so what will the 2021 triathlon season look like? As a coach and race director who has been involved with the sport for eight years I wanted to share some thoughts (and speculations) on what 2021 will look like.

Will races go ahead?

Yes. As lots of events started happening late in 2020, I don’t currently see any reason why 2021 would be a complete washout. Not all events will go ahead, some race organisers didn’t survive 2020 so some events will disappear for good. The exact numbers and what that will look like we’ll find out in due time, but it depends on a wide range of factors.

But we have vaccines right?

In the last fortnight a number of highly effective vaccines have been announced, giving everybody hope that life can return to something resembling normal in the next six months. Whether these vaccines get approved, are free of side effects or enough can be manufactured to reach remote regions remains to be seen, but this is a massive boost. Here in the UK our government are forecasting the population could be immunised to the point where social distancing is no longer required by April. Even allowing for logistical issues, we should have a good rate of vaccination by summer.

Will I need a vaccine to race?

This is the big question no organiser wants to commit to this far out, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that to start with, probably. As the best vaccines are only 95% effective (which I should point out is still incredible), organisers will not want anyone who has a higher than usual risk of infection on their start line as the law of averages suggests there’s still an above average risk they’ll infect another person. As herd immunity starts to take effect from the majority of the public being vaccinated this may well be relaxed in time, but for the 2021 season I expect many organisers will be asking for proof of vaccination before you can take the start.

What if I can’t get vaccinated?

Most triathletes don’t qualify for “vulnerable” status and are under 60 so we’ll be towards the bottom of the list for immunisation. It may be that races will also accept a negative test result within the last 24 hours in lieu of a vaccination certificate to begin with if vaccinations are not available in your area, but once vaccines become widely available within each country, expect race organisers to take a harder line on this. If you’re unable to get vaccinated for medical reasons, I imagine most race organisers will be able to waive this requirement.

What if I don’t want to get vaccinated?

It’s your right not to get vaccinated, but it’s also the event organiser’s right to potentially refuse entry to anyone who isn’t vaccinated. Hopefully within the next few years the virus will have been stamped out for the most part and proof of vaccination will no longer be required. Until then, you may have to sit on the sidelines or find races which allow unvaccinated athletes. National governing bodies may provide guidance on this, meaning organisers may not have a choice in the matter if they want a race license.

Will there be any spaces?

When countries around the world started locking down in spring 2020 race organisers started postponing events until the autumn, before rolling them into 2021 when it became apparent there was very little chance of the most events going ahead. As these events were rolled over, so were their entries, with all athletes registered for 2020 guaranteed places in the 2021 event. Not all of these athletes will take these places, some will have been so angry at the race organiser they refuse to have anything to do with them. Some will be unable to make the new date, some will simply have lost interest, but I estimate a take-up rate of roughly 60-70%. Even this low estimate means places in 2021 will be very limited, so it’s entirely possible that places at triathlons in 2021 will be hard to come by. 2020 was a tough year for event organisers, but they still had entry fees coming in for the events. Next year will be the real test as their income is slashed due to lack of places they can sell.

I hope organisers add extra dates (races on Saturday and Sunday for instance) or new events appear to provide more athletes with the chance to race, but there’s a chance next year will be very lean when it comes to available slots. If you’re on the fence about making the jump, I recommend you act now.

Will there be social distancing measures in place?

To start with, more likely than not. This may cause frustration for many who may have only been vaccinated to allow them to race, but when you consider how many athletes will live with immunosuppressed individuals who may not be able to get vaccinated for medical reasons, while the virus is still in heavy circulation it’s very likely sensible precautions will be taken to minimise transmission.

This all sounds a bit ominous, will racing ever return to normal?

Probably not in 2021, but you never know. It depends largely on the take-up of vaccines and the resulting infection rates. My inclination is that for as long as daily infection rates remain in the triple figures within most countries/states, that organisers will have to keep measures in place to minimise the spread. As important as triathlon is to us, racing is ultimately a privilege, and we can’t expect to receive special treatment because of how hard we trained.

Conclusion

As events went ahead in 2020 while no vaccines were available and daily deaths were in the thousands globally, I can say with confidence that races will be going ahead in 2021 in some shape or form. Whether your event will go ahead, you’ll need a vaccination or what the format looks like none of us can say, but by the time these details become clear you’ll likely be out of time to train for your event from nothing, so I recommend you take a leap of faith and act as if they’re going ahead.

All predictions made in this article were made on the 27th November 2020, and are purely speculative

How Much Faster Will A New Bike Make You?

New bike day (or NBD) is one of the greatest feelings a cyclist can experience. You have saved up your hard earned pennies to splash out on a new two wheeled piece of joy. The frame is in mint condition, the handling is smooth, and the gears are responsive. You immediately imagine yourself achieving great feats, confident that PBs are on their way.

But, are they? How much faster will a new bike genuinely make you? Or does it just feel faster? Was the purchase really necessary? We’ll start by breaking down the advantages of a new bike, and what they can offer you.

Lighter

The Trek Emonda, one of the lightest mass produced bicycles available.

This is easily the biggest reason for most people purchasing a new bike, they want something lighter. If you are currently riding a cheap hybrid you’re replacing with a £1500 road bike you’ll notice a huge difference in weight. However, if you’re upgrading from a £500 road bike to a £1500 one, the weight gains may not be as great as you may think. You might save a kilogram or two, but that’s not enough to make any significant gains on the hills. This is known as diminishing returns, once you are at a certain level of quality you have to spend an awful lot of money to see any improvements beyond that point. 

So yes, a lighter frame might shave a few seconds off your favourite climb, but you could easily make the same improvements through training.

Aerodynamics

The Cervelo S5, one of the most popular road aero frames available

Road aero frames have become very popular in the last five years, primarily as a result of amateurs watching professional riders winning prestigious sprints on gorgeous aerofoil frames. The idea is that they make you faster as they cut through the air easier, reducing resistance encountered. Unfortunately they also slow you down on hills due to increased weight due to additional frame material. This is why you’ll see professional riders swap aero frames for the traditional rounded tubing on hilly stages. The majority of aerodynamic drag is created by the rider, with the frame only accounting for around 10%.

If you rarely go above 30KPH on the flats without riding behind someone (rendering the aerodynamic advantage redundant), then a more aerodynamic frame will do very little to make you faster.

Improved Groupset

Shimano Dura-Ace R9120 disc, one of the most advanced groupsets available

You may be tempted to upgrade to a new bike by the latest and greatest groupset. You’ve rightly noticed that a new groupset can cost the best part of a new bike, so why not go all in?. This is thrifty logic in itself, but we also have to reflect back on the title of this post. How much faster will it makes us? The differences between mid range and top end groupsets is marginal for the most part (under 100g in weight savings), and the smoother shifting promised by the marketing will be barely noticeable. Electronic shifting can provide benefits, but not significant enough to warrant a new bike.

This may be especially appealing to those who find their current groupset is being a bit of a nightmare. You may have lost the ability to shift into the smallest gear, the gear changes rattle, and it sounds like you’re riding a bag of nails around. Buying a new bike is an obvious way around this, the current bike has clearly just had its day right? Well, most of your shifting problems could be fixed by turning the barrel adjustor on your rear mech a quarter turn to the left. Even if it’s more complicated, paying a mechanic £15 to index your gears will probably solve most of your problems. 

As far as time saved goes, upgraded groupsets offer truly marginal gains for a hefty price tag. 

Stiffer frame

Cannondale SuperSix Evo, one of the stiffest frames out there

Good quality carbon fibre bike frames are very stiff and responsive. When you put the power down they leap forwards with you, screaming to go faster. Compared to an old steel frame which will flex and feel more pedestrian, this definitely feels racier. This is most beneficial when putting down sudden bursts of power such as those encountered in a race scenario. This can include launching a surprise attack or lunge for the line in a sprint. Realistically, the vast majority of cyclists will never take part in an event where this is important.

It will feel nicer, but few riders will see a tangible difference in performance from a stiffer frame. 

Riding the Latest Bike

You may be an individual who wants the latest and greatest of everything available to you. You’ve convinced yourself that you need the same bike your favourite professionals are riding, that it must be faster than last year’s. The truth is that most years the only difference is the paint job, and potentially the groupset if it’s been updated in the last 12 months. Every five years or so a manufacturer will overhaul most models in its range, but even these “all new” versions can be very similar with only a few minor tweaks to geometry or the carbon layup.

Manufacturers need to keep their range fresh and interesting to entice new customers into their range, but if you’re an existing customer with a recent model, there is very little to be gained by upgrading.

Smoother riding, better braking, just feels nicer

When you roll a new bike off of the shop floor it will have been inspected by a professional mechanic. The tyres will be pumped up, the brakes will be tight, the chain will be lubricated and the bearings box fresh. As you ride these parts will start to wear if you don’t perform basic maintenance on them. The simplest way to get this “new bike” feeling is by booking it in for a service with a mechanic who will tighten everything up for you, replacing worn parts (at an additional cost) and making simple tweaks to help it ride better. 

Putting your bike in for a service can replicate that new bike feeling for a fraction of the cost.

Conclusion

So, am I advocating hanging onto the same bike forever? Not at all, although we all know someone who has been riding the same frame for twenty years so it’s certainly possible. Personally, the only time I look at buying a new bike is when all of the components have come to the end of their life at roughly the same time and the frame is old/damaged enough that it doesn’t warrant spending several hundreds pounds on fixing.

However, there is more to buying new bikes than just getting faster. You may be looking for a different kind of bike entirely (TT bike, mountain bike, cyclocross, downhill e.t.c.), may want a cheaper bike for winter, one to keep in a second home, one that you use for racing, one with disc brakes or one that just fits you better. Maybe you just love the look of a bike you’ve seen or simply don’t like your current bike. These are all valid reasons for buying a new one, but the main point I wanted to convey was that spending large amounts of money on a new bike won’t necessarily make you that much faster.

 Things that will probably make you faster than a new bike include:

A turbo trainer for structured training

A training plan/coach

Improving your diet

Keeping your bike well maintained

Better tyres

A new bike will probably make you faster while it’s still in perfect working order and you’re motivated to ride it hard. Realistically however, it may only be a matter of months before you find yourself in the same position you’re in now, so think twice before you feel the need to blow the budget on a new bike.

If after reading you still see a new road bike if in your future, make sure you choose the right one by following our guide here

Top Ten Triathlon Training Tips For Beginners

Taking the decision to train for a triathlon is the biggest step many will take in their sporting lives. Many will be complete novices to all three sports, captivated by the idea of stringing swimming, cycling and running together, it’s the challenge that draws us in. However it can be difficult to know where to start, there are thousands of articles, books, YouTube videos and podcasts to wade through to get a well rounded picture of how to train effectively for the sport.

To help, I wanted to condense all of the knowledge I have attained over the years into the top ten training tips for taking on your first triathlon. I could easily make a list of the top 100 training tips, so I’ll have left a few out, but these should help stop newcomers from making embarrassing mistakes, or putting themselves at the risk of injury.

1. Slow Down

You’re no doubt excited to start your triathlon training as a beginner, and I’m excited for you, but we need to dial things back to help keep training efficient. If you swim, bike and run as fast as you can every day, you’ll burn out and will never reach your full potential. Two, maybe three workouts each week should be really challenging, and the other days of the week should be spent recovering from these hard efforts. This ensures you’re ready to go for the next hard session. These easy days should be undertaken at a pace where you could hold a conversation if needed. Your main concern will probably be not being fit enough at this point, worried about failing to finish. But if you are so over trained that you’re exhausted on the start line, you’re not going to have a good race.

2. Progress Your Training

Progressing training throughout a year with TrainingPeaks

If you have signed up for a sprint triathlon (750M swim, 20KM cycle and 5KM run), you could be forgiven for slowly building yourself up to these distances then figuring it’s job done and you can focus on getting faster over those distances. Hitting the distances in training is a milestone you should be proud of, but you should keep extending your training beyond these distances. After reaching 5K run 6K, 7K, 8K, or even further to keep pushing yourself. This will improve your aerobic fitness, making you more efficient over shorter distances. Plus you’ll have the confidence of knowing you can run over the distance, meaning race day should feel easier! You should also start running intervals such as one minute hard one minute easy repeated 20 times. Progress this by reducing the rest or increasing the duration of the hard running. Keep moving forward with your training on your hard days.

I recommend athletes use www.trainingpeaks.com to track and plan their training.

3. Train in the open water

Nervous swimmers at the start of The London Triathlon

If your race takes place in a lake, sea or river, you need to be training there, in the wetsuit you’re planning to wear on the day. Swimming in open water is totally different to swimming in a pool, and you need plenty of practice before the big day. Otherwise you’ll likely find yourself panicking and disorientated. Most lakes will provide coaching, to provide you with a much smoother transition into the open water.

4. Learn to ride at a consistent effort

Riding at a steady pace is imperative for triathlon cycling

This is especially true for those training for a long or middle distance race, but it’s worth remembering for all distances. When we used to race bikes as kids we were primarily racing from lamppost to lamppost, pushing hard for short periods. While most of us are wise enough to realise this isn’t the most efficient way to train for a triathlon, it’s tempting to push hard for a few minutes, then recover, push hard for a bit, recover, then push really, really hard up a hill. This is especially prominent for riders who are big Strava users, and want to push hard where they know there’s a segment. Even if you are racing a sprint triathlon you’ll be spending a minimum of 30 minutes on the bike, so you need to learn to spread your effort evenly over this period, especially as you have a run at the end!

5. Mix up your swim training

Swimming can be intimidating and may feel like a fight for survival when all you want to do is make it out of the water. As such, you could be forgiven for getting in the pool, slowly working your way up to the required distance for your race, then repeating this every week. Not only is this pretty boring, it’s also ineffective as it won’t help you swim better. Including a warm up, main set and cool down is a good place to start. Split your swim up into shorter segments, such as swimming 100M fast with 30 seconds rest between each interval. You should also include swimming drills to help you improve your technique, which is free speed.

6. Practice your race day nutrition

If you’re going to be competing for anything longer than 90 minutes, you will probably need to eat during your event. Carbohydrate is the body’s primary source of fuel for the body. When you start to run out of this valuable resource your performance will fall off a cliff as your body runs out of glucose. Practice eating in training, find what foods work for you, and when you need to take them on. Grabbing an unknown product from a feed station when you start to feel weak could easily lead to cramps, stitches, or vomiting, none which are generally not conclusive to fast race splits.

7. Research your event, and train accordingly

If you have a hilly race, train on the hills. If you have a sea swim, train in the sea. If your race is in a hot climate, try to replicate this during your training. It sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many people forget this if they follow a generic training plan. You should also take the time to familiarise yourself with the course in detail. This avoids any embarrassing extra laps on the bike or getting lost in transition.

8. Buy a turbo trainer

Turbo training allows you to ride your bike anywhere, in a controlled environment (image copyright Wahoo)

Training for the bike, especially if you live in a city can restrict you to one ride a week. By purchasing a turbo trainer you are able to ride from the comfort of your home on a variety of terrain (mountains, flats, rolling hills). You don’t even have to worry about traffic, potholes or bad weather. It also allows you to train properly by following workouts, or take part in virtual events.

9. Train in poor conditions

When the heavens open, the hardy will thrive

A turbo trainer is a fantastic tool for allowing you to ride all year round, but that doesn’t mean you should jump on it instead of a long weekend ride at the first sign of clouds. You can have the best fitness and the flashiest bike, but if you can’t race in the wet or the wind, you’ll find yourself losing time hand over fist when the weather turns. We’re not suggesting you take any risks, if your race is in August you probably don’t need to head out in sub zero temperatures on icy roads, but having the experience to adapt to different situations will pay dividends on the big day.

10. Practice your transitions

Transition can be dangerous, so it’s worth practicing at your own pace before your event

Don’t leave it till race day to practice transitioning from swim to bike, or bike to run. The first time you come out of the open water you may feel like you’re about to fall over and it’s not uncommon to see new triathletes sat on the floor next to their bike waiting for the world to stop spinning. Equally, coming off the bike onto the run will leave you with wooden legs that feel disconnected from the rest of your body. The more of these you practice in training, the smoother the process will be on race day.

I hope that has given you some insight into how to train successfully for a triathlon. There are thousands of moving parts to consider, but we take the stress out of training with our bespoke coaching programmes for athletes of all abilities. Learn more here

Faster, not fitter

The fitter you are, the faster you are, right? Well, it’s not quite as clear cut as that in the real world. Fitness has an enormous effect on as athlete’s ability to swim, bike and run as fast as possible, but it’s by no means the only factor.

Let’s take the term fitness for a start, it’s a phrase I really don’t like because of how vague it is; someone could be able to bench press twice their body weight, summit Mount Everest, free climb up the Dawn Wall or walk the length of the River Thames. All impressive achievements in their own right, but how would an individual who achieves any of these impressive feats fare in a triathlon? Better than your average member of the public you’d wager, but the chances are they’d be soundly beaten by those who are physically weaker, with a lower resting heart rate and a lower V02 max but who are more experienced in the sport. 

How do we measure fitness? There is no right answer or wrong answer here, lots of individuals will have a different idea of what fitness means, however as triathletes we’re interested in the bottom line, our race results . Yes improvements to our FTP and threshold heart rate are all stepping stones to success, and for some individuals these numbers are more important than race results, however I believe these individuals are few and far between. Those who measure everything objectively can often struggle on race day and find themselves disappointed when their predictions and meticulous calculations fall short, and they’re never short of an excuse to explain a poor performance (but then again, how many triathletes aren’t?!). You can be very fast and very fit, that’s what we’re all aiming for, but it’s also possible to be the highest FTP of the field, yet find yourself struggling to make the top ten.

An athlete is fast when they have the confidence, the skills and the experience to complete the race in the fastest possible time, with the resilience to keep pushing when their body is telling them to stop. The winner of the race is the one who crosses the line first, not the one with the highest power numbers, the lowest level of cardiac drift or the most expensive bike. Let’s break it down and have a look at the traits of successful triathletes in each of the disciplines.

Swimming

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Image copyright IOC

In the water, the fast athlete goes off like a rocket at the start, finding fast feet or setting the pace themselves. They then settle into their race pace, sighting often to stay on track. They feel comfortable drafting, and come out of the water towards the front of affairs. They’re not overly concerned about optimal stroke length or stroke rate in the melee of a triathlon swim, they’re more worried about swimming fast and coming out of the water with the fast guys. They swim in the open water at least once a week, and work on their technique all year round, with plenty of hard swims thrown in as well.

Transition 1

The experienced triathlete knows there’s a lot of time to be made up in transition. You may shrug your shoulders at the thought of saving 20 seconds over a long event, but imagine how happy you’d be with taking 20 seconds off of your 5K PB? Fast athletes can easily save time by practicing wetsuit removal after every training swim, memorising where their bike is, leaving it in an appropriate gear, with their items left on the bike in the order they’ll need to attach them. They have also practiced their mounting technique, comfortable with whatever method they have chosen rather than simply hoping for the best.

Cycling

1611 racemythsbusted
Image Copyright Ironman 

Too many triathletes are addicted to their turbo trainer, but while time spent riding indoors will make you fitter, it doesn’t teach you how to take a the corner in the wet, carry momentum through a rolling section, fix simple mechanicals, ride up hills, brake effectively or stay on your aero bars on anything except a perfectly flat, smooth tarmac. ERG mode is especially bad for creating cyclists who can only ride at one cadence in a very narrow operating window. Fast cyclists know their bike and how it works intricately, they can carry speed through the corners and drop down the descents, making up time on fitter, less skilled cyclists hand over fist. They’re also able to spend longer in an efficient TT position without developing neck or back pain, because they’ve put in thousands of miles on their race bike, instead of treating it like it’s made of sugar glass. Rather than only taking it out on the sunniest of days, they’ve learned how to ride it in the wet and giving it a thorough clean after every ride to prolong the life of the parts. When on race day the heavens open, a strong headwind develops or strong gusts try to throw them off their bike, they keep their head down and keep making progress rather than excuses. Nobody cares about your W/KG if you’re sat on the side of the road staring at your flat tyre like someone has just asked you to fix the space shuttle. Fast cyclists do their quality training rides on the turbo, but in anything except the foulest weather they hit the road for their easy/long rides to build their confidence and road craft.

Transition 2

After the bike it’s tempting to take a few moments to yourself to recuperate and mentally recharge before the run. If you’re racing an Ironman, you’re new to the sport or you had some issues on the bike you need to address this is fine, but if you’re going for a good time you need to go into T2 with a detailed plan of how you will switch from bike to run. Fast athletes can picture the exact route they’ll take to their bike racking, where their shoes will be waiting with elastic laces ready for them to fly onto the run course with.

Running

lucy-charles-barclay-1
When racing for the podium at Kona, you can’t afford to stare at your watch. Image copyright unknown.

When those who focus endlessly on numbers and micro analysing their training are passed on the bike, their internal dialogue will nearly always be “They’ve gone out too fast, I’ll catch them on the run”. This may well be true in many cases, but even if they are faster on the run than someone who rode it like they stole it, the fact they arrived in transition 2 ten minutes later somewhat offsets this. Most athletes will have a target they’re aiming for on the run, and pacing is paramount, but the skill to a fast run is knowing when to push. Staying below a certain BPM is a good idea if it’s your first attempt at the distance or the conditions are unusual, but if you’re into the last third of the run and your body is screaming at you to move faster, you should probably listen to it. Proper pacing is incredibly important for the bike to ensure you have good run legs, but you want to make sure you pace your run to perfection so you cross the line having left it all on the course. Fast runners don’t even look at their watch during shorter events, they know how to push their bodies to their absolute limits, and listen to their breathing and legs rather than their heart rate.

 

Race winners are the athletes who practice their nutrition in training, scout the course by riding or driving it, ride their bike in full race spec, practice speedy transitions in their brick sessions, push themselves to the max in fitness tests, and are not afraid of new thresholds or tough workouts. Rather than finding excuses they step up to the challenge and have an intrinsic motivation which keeps them going even when they feel the world is conspiring against them.

Despite what you may think by reading this far, I’m a relatively data heavy coach who spends hours pouring over data files and prescribing workouts to influence power curves, embracing new technologies such as running power. However, recently it has become clear to me just how important coaching the human is rather than simply the body, and how disappearing down a rabbit hole of physiology for the pursuit of 1% improvements can result in us missing the big picture. 

It’s your hobby and you can train for it however you like, but I highly recommend you spend a few years simply enjoying the sport and learning more about your body before you begin getting the textbooks out, or even better hire a coach who can help you navigate the maze of endurance coaching. 

Keeping TrainingPeaks Data Clean

TrainingPeaks is a fantastic tool for planning and analysing our training, but we need good quality data to make informed decisions. If we have bad data we end up making bad decisions which can lead to burnout or even failing to finish your race! So, how do we keep our data clean? There are three areas I consider to be very important, we’ll take a look at each on a case by case basis, looking at common pitfalls and how we can avoid them.

  • Consistent data
  • Enough data
  • Accurate Thresholds

Consistent Data

We need to make sure that the data from one workout is comparable to the workout before it, and the ride after it. The biggest area this can be a problem is with cycling power, specifically when athletes change power meters between activities or fail to recalibrate their devices.

If you are only training indoors and using the power meter built into your trainer, you need to make sure you are re-calibrating the power meter (known as completing a spindown in most cases) every time you transport it, or every four weeks out of habit. As trainers are moved around and knocked about, they can lose their accuracy so the trainer needs to recalibrate itself to ensure the data stays accurate. I once failed to recalibrate my turbo trainer for several months, got myself up to an FTP of 4 W/KG, then re-calibrated my trainer, found workouts impossible, and discovered I was only at 3.6 W/KG! If you are planning to use your power pedals on race day, you should use your power pedals for every ride so you’re training at the same numbers you’ll be racing at, otherwise you run the risk of your intensity factor target on race day being based on turbo numbers, not power pedal numbers, resulting in you blowing up as a result. If you are using a bike based power meter (which I highly recommend) you still need to perform a zero offset (or recalibration as some brands call it) weekly, or whenever you move the power meter from one bike to another. Another issue can be the right pedal running out of battery or experiencing connectivity issues with the left pedal, so keep an eye on that.

 

Running power meters do not require regular calibration, however the numbers are based on your weight, so any changes to your weight will require you to reset your thresholds. As such I only recommend updating your weight if you have lost/gained weight that has been fairly static for a couple of months, or at the start of the season before your baseline testing.

Heart rate can occasionally be very low if the your chest strap takes time to make a good connection, or if your optical monitor struggles to get an accurate reading for whatever reason, such as a loose watch strap or heavy sweating. If you find yourself with a consistently low heart rate reading during a workout, make sure your monitor isn’t upside down!

GPS accuracy varies a lot, especially in urban areas or thick woodland, where you can end up with very high or low numbers. I once had an athlete run a 10K around the City of London, where the GPS trace accidentally made its way to the top of a skyscraper, leading TrainingPeaks to mistakenly believe she’d gained 150M of elevation in 10 seconds, sending the TSS score rocketing.

 

Finally we have elevation, if your GPS or altimeter is putting out bad data it can have you down as running thousands of metres above sea level, resulting in grossly exaggerated TSS scores.

If you find yourself with dropouts or spots of bad data, TrainingPeaks allows you to rectify this on the graph view within a workout. Simply click and drag your cursor over the problematic area, then click on the appropriate button in the top right of the graph for different data field: W for watts, KPH for speed and BPM for heart rate. From here you can select “fix”, which will allow TrainingPeaks to create a preview of the data smoothed out, with the option to apply or discard the changes. In some cases, such as with horrifically inflated elevation data, it can be better to delete the data field entirely, or switch the TSS calculation to hrTSS. If you start playing around with the data but make a mistake you can’t undo, you can simply download the workout from the “files” section in the top right hand corner of the workout view, and re-upload the original file. You’ll lose any comments or other changes you made to the workout, but the original file will always be in tact.

Screenshot 2020-05-07 at 14.18.55
As the heart rate is so low for the first half of the ride, yet the power remains constant, we can be confident that the heart rate in the first half is bad data

Sometimes bad data slips under the radar, looking at the PMC for big spikes can be helpful, as can browsing your peak performances on the TrainingPeaks mobile app and looking for numbers which you know are unrealistic. If a huge wattage or jump in pace isn’t accompanied by an increase in heart rate, you can be pretty sure it’s bad data.

Screenshot 2020-05-07 at 16.04.28
A huge spike in this athlete’s PMC tells me one of their workout includes bad data, which should be removed to ensure accurate data

Enough Data

The performance manager chart found in your dashboard is a coach and athlete’s best friend, it allows us to see how fit an athlete it, how fatigued they are, and how ready they are to perform. The numbers here will only be accurate if we have enough data from your training history to give us accurate insights into your training history. A world champion could create a TrainingPeaks account, but without any information on their training history TrainingPeaks will assume they are a novice, and suggest that they are incredibly fatigued after a couple of what would be a couple of very easy workouts for them.

If you are already an established athlete, you will need to sync your TrainingPeaks account to your fitness tracker/software of choice. Depending on the service you link to, it may or may not import all of your previous activities into TrainingPeaks (As an example, Garmin will, Zwift will not), and while manually uploading all of your data will seem like a gargantuan task, it is important you upload at least the last 42 days, as this is the constant that Critical Training Load (CTL) is based on. If you or your coach plan to use WKO, you will need all of your workouts from the last 90 days.

Screenshot 2020-05-07 at 14.24.57
PMC data from a brand new athlete after 35 days of working together. Notice how their form (yellow line) hits freefall within the first few days of easy workouts

If you are a new athlete who doesn’t have any data to upload, then you will need to take the numbers with a pinch of salt for the first 42 days until TrainingPeaks has enough data to give you accurate figures. I’ve seen many posts on the TrainingPeaks Pain Cave Facebook Group group from individuals concerned that their form is -50 and wondering whether they are overtraining. More often than not they simply don’t have enough quality data uploaded so TrainingPeaks has no point of reference.

Accurate Thresholds

All calculations on TrainingPeaks are based on thresholds. If your thresholds are incorrect your TSS scores will be incorrect and everything else gets knocked out of place, from your PMC metrics to your workout metric, even the targets of your workouts themselves.

While I’m not going to go into testing protocols here, it’s important that you undertake fitness tests within the first 42 days for each sport you’re planning to log on TrainingPeaks. I spend the first month with each athlete focusing on fitness testing, staggering them so they’re not in close proximity, but ensuring we have good, relevant data to work with.

There are two problems athletes struggle with when setting thresholds, the first is basing their threshold off of their lifetime PB (in extreme cases, their best 10K time from 20 years ago), or not updating their thresholds regularly enough. By using a threshold that is too high you will struggle to complete workouts, by using a threshold that is too low you are doing yourself a disservice and not training hard enough, getting overly inflated TSS scored in the process.

I recommend you test each discipline every 6-8 weeks (perhaps more regularly if you’re a single sport athlete) for improvements. If you put in a slightly lower number during the test but your workouts otherwise feel good, you could put the result down to a bad day and leave the number where it is, but if you put in a noticeably lower number (+/- 10 watts or seconds per kilometre) you need to take it on the chin, lower the threshold, and review your training strategy. Do not become a victim of the vanity FTP.

To conclude, here are the main takeaway points:

  • Ensure you use the same power meter for all workouts, and perform a zero offset regularly
  • Ensure TrainingPeaks has all of your data from the last 42 days before you start using the PMC to plan your training
  • Keep an eye out for big drops, spikes or gaps in data, and do your best to fix them using the tools in TrainingPeaks
  • Be honest with yourself about your thresholds, and re-test regularly

It can be time consuming to look through your data and make sure everything is up to date. If this seems like too much work, or you don’t know what to do with your data once you have it in order, take a look at our online coaching.

Choosing Your First Triathlon

Choosing your first race is one of the biggest decisions you can make as an aspiring triathlete, and it can actually be the difference between you making it to the finish or not. There are a surprising number of factors to take into account, and the race fees may well set your back three figures, so it’s important to get it right. We’ll start with the basics and slowly move our way into the more detailed, tricky stuff.

Distance

Before you even look at events, you need to decide which distance you’re going to be tackling. The standardised distances are:

Super Sprint

400M Swim
12KM Bike
2.5KM Run

Sprint

750M Swim (400M if pool based)
20KM Bike
5KM Run

Olympic 

1500M Swim
40KM Bike
10KM Run

Half Iron

1900M Swim
90KM Bike
21.1KM Run

Iron

3800M Swim
180KM Bike
42.2KM Run

Hopefully you’ll have decided on a distance before you even begin your training, but if you haven’t yet started then it’s crunch time and you need to make a decision before the races start selling out. I recommend a distance you feel is realistic, yet will provide you with a feeling of reward upon completion. If you are new to endurance sport then a super sprint will likely prove to be a challenge in itself, however if you’re an experienced ultra runner and long distance cyclist who has been competing for many years and just needs to master the swim, then an Ironman may, in extreme cases, provide you with the challenge you’re after.

Swim Type

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A freshwater swim in summer is the gentlest introduction to open water

This is probably the second biggest consideration, where will you be swimming? In an icy Scottish loch? In a shallow, warm lake? Or in your local leisure centre pool? If you are new to triathlon I’m 90% certain the swim will be causing you the most anxiety, and managing this fear is paramount. If you are going to have sleepless nights thinking about open water swimming, a pool based event will be the safest choice. Alternatively if you are lucky enough to be an accomplished swimmer, then a sea swim may give you the sense of achievement and adventure that you crave. 

Location

Writing this from my London flat, I’m very fortunate in that there are hundreds of races within driving distance so I can have my pick of any event of any distance, however if you live in a more isolated area, you may have much less of a choice. It may be tempting to travel somewhere more exotic to make a holiday out of it, but for your first race it’s worth considering the other stresses this introduces into what may already be a stressful experience. You have travel, transporting your bike, hiring a car, potential language barriers, unknown local cuisine, jet lag and more, all of which can work against you and getting to the start line calm and confident. If you are lucky enough to have a local event close enough that you can travel there and back in the same day, I highly recommend you do so, so that even if you do have a sleepless night, at least it’s from the comfort of your own bed. Completing a triathlon is an exhausting experience, so having someone to drive you there and back 

Course Profile

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A hilly course makes for a great challenge and spectacle, but does it really suit you?

The chances are you’ll be looking for an event which you feel confident getting around, and this will likely equate to a nice, flat course, especially if you’re making your debut at Olympic distance or above. I personally love hilly courses as these are where I perform well, but if you’re tentative about your first event, you probably want to remove as many potential tripping points as possible. Sticking to flatter courses is a great way to save energy, increasing your chances of finishing or hitting your target time.

Number of Competitors

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The London Triathlon is a very beginner friendly course, with spectator access along the majority of the course

Many newer athletes really benefit from having constant support on the course, feeding off of the energy and noise of the crowd as they make their way towards the finish line. If this is the case for you then it’s probably best you find a large scale event such as The London Triathlon, a World Series event or a local race renowned for its support. The flip side to this is that if an event has a lot of competitors, the course can be very busy, which can be intimidating for newer athletes, and frustrating for faster athletes as they try to weave their way around slower participants. 

Race Organiser

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Ironman branded events aren’t cheap, but they are the best in the business

Not all race organisers are created equal, an understatement if there ever were one. I’ve organised a triathlon and been race director a couple of times so I know how much goes into running an event, but it’s incredible how badly some organisers get it wrong. At one event I competed at they ran out of transition racking so bikes were stacked three deep against a wall, and I once arrived at a junction during a small 70.3 to discover a sign flapping around in the wind and no marshals, resulting in a 700M diversion before a group ran towards me shouting  “Don’t run that way!”. Race organisers really make a difference, not just due to huge errors such as those, but smaller details such as clearing the swim course of weed, having enough aid stations that are well stocked, a professional transition area and in some cases closed roads. Yes events by premium race organisers are expensive, but you normally get what you pay for.

Temperature

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Is jumping from a boat into 12 degree water at 5AM your idea of fun?

Are you looking at a race in the Mediterranean during summer, or a race in Yorkshire in October? Are you a larger athlete who struggles in the heat, or a featherweight who struggles in the cold? This is an important distinction to make, and you should use this to help you choose your race. You have enough to worry about during your first race without having to take layering and heat management into account.

Time of Year

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If you struggle in the cold, you may want to wrap your season up by early September

This is perhaps the most underrated consideration, when in the year will you be competing? Many will have been training through the winter and be raring to go come May when the first races kick off. If this is simply your warmup event or your chance to dip your toe in the sport that’s fine, but if you’re new to open water swimming and entering an early season even which you’ve invested a lot of energy into training for, this makes me very nervous as a coach. The reason being that someone can be really strong in the pool, but get into the open water and really struggle with the cold temperature (as low as 12 degrees), murky waters and swimming amongst thousands of others, causing a major panic attack and potential DNF. By choosing a race later in the season (July or August) you will not only be able to spend more time training in open water, the temperature will also be warmer on race day, vastly improving you chances of finishing.

 

Do you have friends who will be racing alongside you? Or family that will come along to support you? This is especially important after your first race when you’ll either be on cloud nine crossing the line, or in need of a pick me up should the racing gods conspire against you.

This is by no means an extensive list, there are plenty of other factors you will need to take into account yourself given your unique circumstances, but hopefully this will help you make an intelligent choice for your first race, to make sure it’s an enjoyable experience rather than a battle for survival. 

If you are looking for help choosing a race, you may be interested in our coaching consultation where we can look at lots of factors and use our experience of events to help you choose the right one for you, or if you want a fully comprehensive coaching package, including coach attendance at major races, head to our application page.