Choosing a Triathlon Coach

For many athletes, deciding they’d like to be coached, and then choosing a triathlon coach is a rite of passage. If you have the budget and the inclination, coaching is the best way to get faster.

However, there are many things to consider when choosing a triathlon coach. You need to consider their experience, their qualifications, the kind of athletes they work with and their methodology. There are very few right and wrong answers in triathlon, and different coaches will work in different ways to achieve the same thing.

In this piece I’m going to look at different considerations when choosing a triathlon coach, pitfalls to avoid, and red flags you may want to look out for. Full disclosure, I am a coach myself and you are reading this on my website (sorry about that), however more than anything I want people to enjoy their triathlon and have a positive coaching experience, whether that’s with me or someone else.

Are You Ready to be Coached?

This may sound like a silly question, but I’ve worked with athletes over the years who aren’t truly ready to hand the reins over to someone else. Doing so can be scary, as you are giving up your autonomy and putting a lot of trust in someone. If you are still improving at a rapid rate with your current programme, it may be worth waiting until you hit a bit more of a plateau before you hire extra help, as otherwise the coaching relationship can be stressful for both parties and become strained over time.

You need to be able to show true vulnerability. This goes beyond simply telling your coach “My swimming sucks, I need your help to improve”. It means telling your coach when you’re tired or having doubts about the training. When you feel you’re not making progress or you’ve picked up a potential injury. Honesty is so incredibly important in coaching, to the point I’ve terminated coaching relationships when an athlete has been deliberately dishonest. Most coaches will not judge or think less of you for missing sessions, going off plan or switching sessions around, but transparency with the coach is incredibly important, so we can understand why you aren’t following the plan, allowing us to attempt to fix it.

If you feel ready to work with a coach, you can begin your search. Ask around any triathlon friends you have to see if they have recommendations. If nothing comes up that you think will work for you, it’s time to take your search online.

You can either start by searching for simple terms such as “Triathlon Coaching London”, or you could use a coach finder website to find a suitable coach for you. I recommend the latter, as you can then compare dozens of coaches like for like, without flashy websites to distract you from what really matters. Once you find a coach’s profile who appeals to you, it’s worth visiting their website to learn a bit more about them, and creating a shortlist to come back to later.

A laptop displaying a coach writing a training plan
Image copyright TrainingPeaks

Location

The first thing you need to consider is location, as this will have a large impact on your search. Do you see yourself spending a lot of time in person with your coach? Or are you completely self sufficient in that regard? Newer athletes tend to need a bit more in the way of in person coaching while more established athletes tend to need much less. I have worked with several athletes I have never met before, from Syria to India, and the US to Russia. If you have the choice between working with a mediocre coach in your local area, or a high quality coach virtually, it’s worth asking yourself just how important face to face is for you.

When I was living in London I had dozens of athletes sign up with me who wanted a local coach. Many of them I never met face to face. Coaching means different things to different people, and some I saw at least once a month, but it’s worth being realistic with how much time you genuinely intend to spend with your coach. Coaching sessions aren’t generally free, so your budget is worth considering as well. If you are towards the upper end of your budget from monthly coaching fees alone, will you really have the disposable income to pay them for in person sessions? You may want simply to meet up with them occasionally over a coffee to discuss how training is going, but in the post pandemic era, Zoom is a time efficient relatively personable way to have these conversations wherever you are in the world.

Monthly Fees

The next big consideration when choosing a triathlon coach is monthly fees. Coaches can charge anything from £40 a month all the way up to £1000. Triathlon is already an expensive sport, so pick a coach in your price range. I love triathlon, but it’s really not worth putting yourself into debt over, and those coaches charging the higher fees may not necessarily be that much better than coaches charging less, they may simply have a very high opinion of themselves.

I charge £200 a month, which is roughly the going rate for the level of service I offer, taking me nicely into my next point.

Level of Service

Choosing a triathlon coach is much more than just hiring the best coach you can find, it’s important that it matches the level of service you desire. You may be able to work with a legendary coach for a surprisingly affordable fee, but if your only contact with them is one E-mail a month, are you really being coached? Equally, if you have a coach who analyses all your workouts, messages you every day to check in and is always asking questions, is that too much for you personally?

If you want someone to write you a comprehensive plan then just leave you alone to get onto it, you may want to consider hiring someone to write you a custom training plan instead, and save yourself money in the process.

I provide a bespoke service including mobility assessments, nutrition coaching, strength and conditioning, power modelling, feedback after every session and training plans written on a weekly basis. Open minded athletes who engage with all of this get the most out of their coaching experience. However, the time I spend on each athlete bumps the price up, and many athletes won’t have any interest in some of the elements. Those athletes might be better off finding another coach with lower fees who they won’t feel are holding them to account all the time.

Qualifications

Checking a triathlon coach’s formal credentials should be your next step. Many triathlon coaches out there don’t have any formal qualifications, and simply decide one day they’re going to offer to help people out for a bit of extra cash. This is how many coaches including myself started out, however it’s safe to say the service I provided was less than outstanding in those early days. If you have a lot invested in an event it’s worth looking for a triathlon coach with a variety of experience and qualifications who can support you across your journey. While we will never be experts in swim, cycle, run, strength or nutrition coaching, we should as coaches have a strong working knowledge of them all, which is best developed through qualifications.

Not all qualifications are created equal either. My status as a British Triathlon High Performing Coach is the result of six years of professional development. On the other hand, someone with very little experience can complete an online coaching certification in a matter of weeks. I don’t want to be seen as a gatekeeper here, but if you’re looking to put your trust in someone, it’s worth checking the levels of qualifications they hold before you hand over any money.

Experience and Other Credentials

However, qualifications aren’t the be all and end all. Some of the best coaches out there have no qualifications. They may have decades of experience in the sport as a competitor, or simply have decided against following any formal education pathway. Time spent coaching athletes in different scenarios over several years, and development outside of formal education are arguably more important than certificates, so it’s worth considering this when looking at coaches. I have been coaching for six years as I write this which is perfectly respectable amount of time in the eyes of many, but I couldn’t pretend to know as much as someone who has been in the job for 25 years.

However, consider when choosing a triathlon coach that experience and qualifications do not equal competence. I have met some coaches who got qualified in the 80s and haven’t changed their approach since. Most qualifications delivered by national governing bodies (British Triathlon, US Triathlon e.t.c.) aren’t especially challenging and are normally an experience in providing a safe, inclusive training environment as much as anything.

The results of their previous athletes can be something of a red herring. A coach may boast that they’ve helped over 2o athletes qualify for the Ironman World Championships. Like most coaches I have helped athletes qualify for world championship events, but many of them would have probably made it without me. If someone comes to me with an FTP of 320W and the ability to run a 1:30 half marathon off the bike, I can’t truly claim too much credit for their performance. Equally, someone I coach may finish 17th in their age group and get a Kona slot through roll down as nobody else turned up on the Monday morning. However, if a coach has helped several athletes win their age group at world championship events or medal at national championships, they’re probably the real deal.

What are Your Goals?

My first race in 2013

It’s important to keep this at the forefront of your mind when choosing your first triathlon coach. I love triathlon and have experience working with participation athletes as well as high performance athletes and enjoy them both for different reasons. I change my approach depending on what the athlete wants to achieve, to make sure they receive coaching suitable for them.

However, some coaches are much more specialised, especially if coaching is not their full time occupation. If you are looking to improve your Ironman PB, you will likely want someone who has experience competing and coaching at this distance over the very enthusiastic coach in your hometown who writes people training plans for a few bucks. Equally, if you struggle to submerge your face in the water and have never ridden a road bike before, then hiring a legendary Ironman coach on the other side of the world may not be the best use of your money.

Choosing your Triathlon Coach

Once you have considered all of the above, you have probably narrowed the search down to a handful of coaches who you feel have rates you can afford, the credentials you are looking for, and who can provide you with the level of support they are looking for. It’s now time to start calling them up or sending them E-mails to organise a first conversation.

I try to get back to potential clients as soon as possible to show I take them seriously, so I would expect a reply within 24 hours in most cases, however don’t make the mistake of simply hiring the coach who responds fastest. At this point, a coach will hopefully offer to setup a call or a meeting to get to know you better. I’d personally be cautious of a coach who immediately send you through some paperwork to sign and welcome you on board. I would also expect a coach to offer this without any money changing hands.

There’s nothing wrong with shopping around and having meetings with different coaches, but they will appreciate it if you are up front about the fact you are shopping around so they can pitch the conversation appropriately.

Red Flags

This is very much my opinion, but the following would be red flags to me if I was looking for a coach:

Significant minimum commitment

All clients should reserve their right to change their mind. It may be that you realise coaching doesn’t suit you, you change your goals, or a life event means you can no longer train for/attend your race. If any of these happen, you should be able to walk away only losing a month’s worth of coaching fees, instead of paying for six months of fees you can no longer use. A coach should also reserve the right to walk away from an athlete if the relationship isn’t working, so this benefits both parties.

They advertise themselves as being a certain kind of coach

It may be that they advertise themselves as being a coach who specialises in polarised training, they follow a certain programme of swim coaching or they are associated with a certain kind of diet such as vegan, low fat or carnivore. While there is nothing wrong with a coach getting as much knowledge as possible, if they make a big deal out of the fact they work in a certain way, that’s the kind of coaching you’ll receive whether you respond well to it or not. Coaching should be all about finding what works for the athlete, not trying to fit square pegs into round holes.

They no longer train/race in any capacity

In days gone by it was very common for coaches to be retired athletes who spent the rest of their days at the running track with a stopwatch. In triathlon however things are different and it’s very easy to dip in/out. While they may not be able to race long distance events or their days of podium finishes may be behind them, if they’re not doing any kind of swimming, cycling or running, I personally would wonder how much their heart is in it.

They won’t stop talking about their racing

They may have competed at Kona, won their age group at major events or even had a career as a pro themselves. This is great and can give them a unique insight into the sport, but it may also be a smokescreen. Just because someone knows what works for them doesn’t mean they know what works for you, and even if they do they may not be able to communicate that well. Some coaches are exceptional athletes and exceptional coaches, however this isn’t always a given, so do a bit of digging and find out about more of their coaching achievements/experience before blindly handing over your money.

They have strict time limits on phone calls

You may not be able to afford a coach who you includes unlimited contact in their package, and instead look at coaches who offer a monthly call. There is nothing wrong with this as a more budget friendly option, however if they are cutting you off at exactly 30 minutes on the dot then I would suggest they’re not all that interested in your development.

Your training plan is written months ahead of time

Sometimes when you hire a coach, you are also provided with a full training plan. I would be unhappy with this personally as it’s probably a copy/paste job and won’t take into account any of my unique availability or my strengths as an athlete. Using a training plan as a foundation isn’t necessarily the wrong way to go about things, but if it’s never reviewed or adjusted, is it really coaching? If all you want is a training plan, check out the plans on the TrainingPeaks webstore or our selection of plans.

They try to upsell you from day one

“If you want help with your nutrition that’s an extra £40 a month. If you want strength and conditioning exercises, that’s an extra £200. You’re a weaker swimmer so we should be working together once a week, which is £60 an hour”. Coaches may offer what appear to be more reasonable monthly fees to get people to sign on the dotted line, but will then rather forcefully suggest you purchase lots of extras which can more than double the monthly cost. There is no replacement for face to face sessions, but you should feel you are purchasing them because you want to, not because you’re being coerced to.

Conclusion

There are no right answers or wrong answers when it comes to choosing a triathlon coach. There are thousands of different coaches around the world from those just starting out with their first client to those with 30 years experience overseeing huge coaching companies. There is (probably) a coach out there for everyone, so make sure to do your research and only sign up with someone who you trust. Coaching is the fastest way to improve, but nothing will kill your enthusiasm for the sport faster than working with the wrong coach, so choose wisely and don’t be afraid to walk away if it’s not working for you.

IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire Race Guide

DISCLAIMER: This is not the official race guide for IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire. This is an unofficial guide written to help athletes familiarise themselves with the course. The official IRONMAN Athlete Guide is compulsory reading and will become available close to race day at https://www.ironman.com/im703-staffordshire

All information provided here is based on my experience at the 2022 event, however things may well be different when you compete. Always defer to the information in the athlete guide and that which is provided by team members on site.

I have written a guide for a generic M-dot branded race day which goes more into the nitty gritty that can be found here, where this article will focus more on what makes the Staffordshire course itself unique.

Introduction

Congratulations on taking the plunge and signing up for IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire. Whether this is your first 70.3 or your 100th, I’m sure you’re going to have a great day. The course is the toughest half distance event I’ve ever raced, so underestimate it at your peril. The swim can be choppy, the rolling bike course has a real sting in its tail, and the run features a punishing hill up to Staffordshire Castle and back.

Logistics

This will probably be the longest section of this article, all of the logistics involved with setting your transition area up. I remember thinking on the Saturday how I was looking forward to the Sunday morning, as the amount of faffing I had to do to get myself setup on the Saturday was mind boggling. This is a very difficult race logistically, and you have little hope of getting everything done without access to a vehicle of some sort.

Firstly, if at all possible, I recommend you travel up to Staffordshire and stay over on the Friday night, and register on the Friday if at all possible. The reason for this is two fold. Firstly, you have more time to get everything done, and don’t run the risk of running out of time. Secondly, if you get ready to leave on the Saturday morning and your car won’t start or your train is cancelled, you have time to sort it out. The registration tent closes midday on Saturday, and if you arrive any later than this you won’t be able to race.

Registration and T2 Setup

Registration and T2 are both in the town centre, so I recommend you head down with everything you need for your run bag. This should include your running shoes and any additional clothing and/or nutrition you may want for the run course. For registration you will need photo ID (passport or driving license) as well as your proof of entry, in 2022 this took the form of a QR code we needed ready to be scanned. T2 is a long way from the town centre car park recommended by IRONMAN, so make sure you factor this into your timings.

Upon registering you will receive an IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire backpack, wristband, race number, series of stickers, swim cap, blue bag, red bag, white bag and some promotional items. You will receive your timing chip in T1, so don’t worry about that just yet. Apply your stickers to your red bag and place the items you need for the run inside of it. It is worth running through in your mind the things you’ll have on you at the time, and the things you think you might need.

You can now enter T2 (using your wristband as ID) to hang your red bag onto your hook in the marquee. From here, walk all the way from your bag to the entry to T2, where you’ll be arriving with your bike on Sunday. From here, plot out your walk to your bike racking point. This is denoted by stickers on each piece of racking, one of which will have your race number on it. Plan your exact route from racking your bike over to the marquee, so you don’t run the risk of getting confused on the day.

While you’re in T2 you can check out the merchandise tent if you’re that way inclined, but it’s worth bearing in mind that you will get a free technical T-shirt when you finish tomorrow.

T1 Setup

Transition 1 for IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire is a bit of a nightmare. Firstly you have to find the car park for T1, avoiding the directions your satnav will give you over a bridge that is closed to traffic. Once in the T1 car park you then unload all the gear you need, build your bike back up (giving it a test ride to make sure it works as it should), then wait for a shuttle bus to take you to T1 itself. Once you disembark the bus, you then have a 10-15 minute walk to transition. After leaving T2, you should budget between 60 and 90 minutes to get to T1. As a result of the logistics involved, it’s worth triple checking you have everything you need before leaving for T1. You will have access to your blue bags on Sunday morning if you forget something small such as your sunglasses, but it’s a stress you can do without.

Before entering T1 itself you will need to ensure your stickers are on your helmet, bike and blue bag. Your helmet will need to be on your head, with the strap tightened so marshals can check it is fitted correctly.

Once inside T1, your first job is to find your racking point. Like T2, you will have a designated racking point denoted by a sticker with your race number. Rack your bike in a way which doesn’t cause an obstruction to other athletes, and make your way to the marquee to hang your bike bag in the same manner as your run bag. You can then collect your timing chip from the volunteers at the far end of the marquee.

While a walkthrough of T2 is a nice to have, a walk through of T1 is essential. When you come out of the swim you will probably be slightly disorientated with your heart rate pounding and the excitement of making it out of the water. As a result, it’s easy to misplace your bag and even your bike, costing you time, but more importantly, causing you stress.

If at all possible, it’s ideal that you coincide your visit to T1 with the official swim practice. this gives you a chance to experience the waters of Chasewater Reservoir. Perhaps it was a one off, but despite very little wind in 2022, it was the choppiest fresh water swim I’ve ever experienced. Nothing you can’t handle, but if it’s as bad the year you race, it will help your confidence knowing what to expect on the day itself to avoid any panic attacks.

With your bike and run kit in place, you have everything you need to succeed on race day in place. Time to head back to your accommodation, take a load off, and focus on rest and nutrition ahead of the big day tomorrow.

Race Morning

Nothing says race day like nervous smiles

Due to the inaccessible nature of T1, IRONMAN put on a shuttle bus from the town centre to the start. Make sure you have everything you need for the swim (including your timing chip) and head to the pickup point with a lot of time to spare. The first few shuttle buses are for athletes only, where the following buses are also open to spectators. You can’t get to T1 early enough in my opinion, as this allows for faff time, getting changed, and a final toilet visit.

Once you are changed into your trisuit, wetsuit, goggles, swim cap and any other accessories, place your other clothing in your white bag and hand it into the volunteers at the trucks. These will be waiting for you to collect at the finish. IRONMAN recommend you don’t leave any valuables in these bags, so it’s best to leave your phone and keys with a spectator if at all possible.

The swim will likely be wetsuit optional, with the vast majority of swimmers opting for the wetsuit option thanks to improved buoyancy and warmth.

Once you are ready for your IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire race day, take your place by lining up alongside the board with your expected swim time. If in doubt, go for a little bit slower, as it’s preferable to pick your way past slower swimmers, than to be half drowned by faster, potentially aggressive swimmers. If you are a faster swimmer yourself, it’s worth getting to the swim pens extra early, as they fill up fast and you could find yourself surrounded by swimmers aiming for a much slower time.

Once the race officially starts athletes will make their way though the wooden hut and onto the pier itself, which provides an opportunity for you to wash your goggles with water to reduce fogging, if that works for you.

You will then be asked to line up in threes, and released at five second intervals. Once you cross the timing mat your race has begun and you are on the clock.

IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire Swim Course

There is a gentle ramp which takes you down into the waters of Chasewater reservoir. If you are an experienced swimmer you can enter with some gusto, where more nervous swimmers are better off making a slow entry. The course is made up of a series of left hand turns, followed by a right hand turn at the end. You will make three major left hand turns, so count these as you go, and visualise the map in your head to give you a good idea of how far you have left to go.

Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire Swim Course
Copyright IRONMAN

If you are a stronger swimmer and holding pace, then staying to the left will be the slightly faster way round, where if you’re a nervous swimmer, it may be worth taking a slightly wider line to stay out of trouble.

As mentioned earlier, the water was pretty choppy in 2022. If this is the case when you are racing, you can compensate for this by lifting your head slightly higher out of the water to breathe, and slightly increasing your stroke rate. This isn’t the time or place for a slow, aesthetically pleasing pool stroke, this is all about adapting your stroke for speed in tough conditions. Focus on keeping your breathing relaxed, and roll onto your back if you need to catch a breath. Despite the chop, I didn’t take a single mouthful of water while swimming, in part due to my ability to breathe to both sides. If there is chop coming in from the right, and you can only breathe to your right, you might be in for a rough swim. As it’s a course made up of left turns, the ability to breathe to your left will also make your sighting more effective.

In the last 50M you may want to try kicking your legs a little harder to get the blood flowing and prevent disorientation coming into T1. At the end of the swim you will come out at a launching ramp for watercraft. This ramp is very slippy, so don’t be too proud to refuse help from the volunteers. Once off the ramp you can make your way into T1.

Transition 1

There is a sizeable run up to T1, so keep this in mind. If you are feeling disorientated then you may want to walk rather than run. When swimming you are in a horizontal position surrounded by cool water, which keeps your heart rate low. Once you stand up and start walking/running, your heart rate shoots up to adapt, which can result in light headedness. You can work on reducing this by practicing a very short run out of the water in open water training sessions. If you can practice removing your wetsuit at the same time, even better.

All smiles coming out of T1

Once you make it to the marquee you can head straight for your bag, then straight out the other side where there will be a collection of benches available for you to sit down and change on. Unlike a sprint or Olympic where seconds lost in transition are vital, it’s worth taking a bit more time in a 70.3 transition to put on socks if desired, apply suncream or extra layers if the weather demands them. It may cost you an extra 15 seconds, but you’ll lose a lot more than that if you get hypothermic, sunburnt or develop blisters. Once you are ready for the bike, you can pass your blue bag (now full of your swim kit) to a volunteer, who will place it on a truck destined for the finish line.

From here you can make your way to your bike, grab it from its rack, and make for the bike mount line. It’s quite a distance to the mount line if your bike is close to the marquee, so keep this in mind. Once at the mount line hop on your bike in a way which won’t block other athletes and get ready for the bike course.

IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire Bike Course

The ride is a 90KM point to point route, which to my knowledge has remained largely unchanged in recent years, so it’s unlikely it will be different for you if you are reading this the right side of 2030.

IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire Bike Course
Copyright IRONMAN

To start with, you will head out on a pretty rough road out of the reservoir. The tarmac is broken up, and any nutrition not firmly attached to your bike is likely to be ejected rather unceremoniously. If you have rear mounted bottle cages, it may be worth using some rubber bands or velcro to keep them more secure for this part of the course. Even if you’re not running rear mounted bottle cages, keep and eye out for bottles in the road, which may have been ejected. Once you’re onto smoother roads it’s worth thinking about nutrition. It’s probably the best part of an hour since you had anything to eat by now, so worth keeping on top of those energy stores.

There is a gentle but prolonged uphill from here. For those who have not ridden in the UK before, the roads are pretty narrow, potholed and rolling for the entirity of the route. You can only fit an absolute maximum of three riders on one side of the road (you’re not allowed to cross the centre line of the road) and there is very little flat. It’s definitely a course for triathlon bikes or aero bars if you own them, but make full use of your gears on the hills, and stay cautious on the unsighted corners.

The first half of the bike will probably pass by relatively quickly, but once you reach the 35 mile mark, you’re in for a challenge. Now, at 55KG and I have an FTP of 4W/KG, I’m well suited for long climbs. However, I struggled here. You will be reaching this climb with 2-3 hours of racing under your belt, and unless your pacing and nutrition have been on point, this climb will find you wanting. Of the club members I attended the race with, the vast majority of us underestimated this climb, and suffered their way to the top.

The loop of the Chase Climb section is 18Km long, and the KOM is 27 minutes, so the average competitor should budget around 40 minutes for this section alone. At the top of the climb you will reach a wooded area where a feed station is located. Take the time to stock up on what you need here. Don’t fall into the trap of “I’m almost off the bike, I don’t need to stop” as you still have 15 miles to ride, including a couple of small hills, as well as T2 and the first 2KM of the run before you reach the next aid station. After this is a technical downhill including a very sharp left hand turn. Don’t get too carried away here, and ride within your ability.

The main takeaway point here is to keep something in reserve for this section. Rather than scrapping for position and fighting to get ahead of other riders on the smaller hills earlier in the course, it’s better to keep things comfortable, and save a bit of energy for this climb. You’ll still be around halfway through your race by the time you reach this climb, so can’t afford for it to send you into the red.

If you are hurting from the climb the last 15 miles will be tough, but they’re not overly challenging. Keep eating and drinking, maybe avoiding solids ahead of the run. Get your head down, and start shifting your focus towards the finale.

Transition 2

The mount line is just before a sharp left hander, and is well sighted. Make sure you dismount in time or you may have to make a visit to the penalty tent, which is stress you don’t need. Rack the bike you’re likely to see the back of onto your designated space, then make your way with everything towards the marquee, where you’ll grab your red bag and choose a bench like you did in T1.

Change into your run kit, and stuff everything from the bike into your red bag, and thank the volunteer as you hand them your kit bag. There are toilets available in T2 if you’re busting.

Now all that stands between you and the finish line is 13.1 miles of running. Oh, and a massive hill you have to run up twice.

IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire Run Course

IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire Run Course
Copyright IRONMAN

As you head out of T2 you’ll run alongside the river for just short of a mile before you pick up the course. You will follow this for a short while, then reach a junction where you bear left for laps, or right for the finish. Keep to the left and follow it through a town centre section.

As you are on your way out of the town centre you will make your way over a humpback bridge. This is worth mentioning as it’s pretty steep and will likely burn your quads as you make your way over it. If you are already suffering, you may want to consider walking this. I saw a lot of people vomiting in proximity to this hill, so it’s far better to knock it off a bit and keep your energy gels where they belong, rather than trying to be a hero.

On your way out of town you’ll make your way out towards a main road where you’ll bear right onto a pretty uninspiring out and back section along a dual carriageway. Upon completing this you’ll make your way onto Newport Road.

Newport Road is a slight uphill which will last for just short of a mile, which seems unfair for a triathlon run course. However, this isn’t the end of the fun. You will then do a right onto a narrow road which takes you up to the castle. I hope it’s not an understatement to say that this hill will rip your legs off. Between the bottom of Newport Road all the way up to the castle is 60M of elevation gain, and the gradient maxes out at 17%. I was suffering with significant stomach problems by this part in the race, so for the first lap I walked the entirety of this section. On the second lap once the stomach cramps had subsided I ran the Newport Road section, but still felt the steep road up to the castle was difficult to justify running, as it’s not an awful lot faster than walking for me.

Once you reach the castle you’ll run a lap before making your way towards the downhill section, where it really is worth running if your legs will let you, maximising the momentum to let gravity pull you down. Once at the bottom of Newport road you’ll follow it along, make a short lap around a pond, back over the humpback bridge then back into town to start lap two. Once you have completed your second castle hill rep it’s only 5K to the finish (one parkrun to go), so put on the afterburners here if you still have something in the tank to push onto the largely downhill/flat finish.

While the bike course is challenging, but manageable with the right pacing strategy, this run course is probably the most brutal of any M-dot branded event I’m familiar with. It’s not impossible to run all of it by any means, you just need to consider the amount of elevation when deciding on your pacing strategy. If you have run a flat 70.3 at a pace of 5:00 per KM for instance, you may want to head out at 5:10 or maybe even 5:20 per KM, at least on the first lap, to ensure you still have the legs to run the hills.

On completion of your second lap you’ll bear right at the junction to take in your finish line experience. Savour the moment here, whip up the crowds, be generous with the high fives, and collect your well earned medal in the finisher’s area. Here you can grab a slice of pizza, collect a paper bag with some freebies, then follow the path around to the left where you can collect your white bag with your clothing in.

Next up you need to collect your bike and other equipment from T2. It’s a long walk from the finish line, so factor this into your plans for the day. Regardless of your time, you should feel proud of your achievement and wear your finisher’s T-shirt with pride. I was a full 90 minutes slower on this course than my PB at the distance, which should give you an idea of how challenging it is.

If you are looking for help preparing for your event, check out our range of 70.3 training plans here: https://www.trainingpeaks.com/my-training-plans/70.3plans

Alcohol and Triathlon

Most athletes have wondered at some point what the relationship is between alcohol and triathlon. Should they drink at all? How much is too much? Why is alcohol free beer such a big thing in our sport? In this article I hope to sort fact from fiction, and help you make informed choices. The first half will be science focused, in the second half we’ll look at a few strategies you can employ, and my personal feelings on the subject. If you’re looking for a quick wrap up, scroll on down to the conclusion at the bottom.

I’m not going to try to talk you out of drinking, rather help you decide whether one more pint really is a good idea, help you understand the effects it has on your performance, and make more informed choices. We’re all individuals with our own set of values, and I’m not going to try to impose mine on you.

The Metabolism of Ethanol

Ethanol is known by some as the fourth macronutrient. We already have carbohydrate, fats and protein, with ethanol sneaking in as a fourth. So what role does ethanol play? Well, it doesn’t play a role at all in a healthy diet, it’s completely optional and of no benefit to an athlete. Carbohydrate and protein both contain 4 calories per gram (so 100g of sugar would contain 400 calories), while fats contain 9. Ethanol contains 7 calories per gram, so is calorifically dense. This can add quickly over the course of a night out.

The body has no way to store ethanol, so it is perceived as a toxin. The quickest way to remove ethanol from the body is to metabolise (burn) it, so the body prioritises burning ethanol over carbohydrates, in the same way the body prioritises carbohydrates over fats when training. This means that the food we were already digesting prior to alcohol consumption or following it becomes excess calories. When you consider that some of the food decisions we make during and after alcohol consumption can be… interesting… combined with the fact the body is getting all the energy it needs from ethanol, this has the potential to leave us with a lot of excess calories

What does the body do with excess calories? It stores them as body fat. When you consider that dietary fats can take up to seven hours to digest, any fats you had for lunch or dinner before you start drinking may be translated directly into body weight. Ethanol metabolism also creates acetates in our body, which reduces our body’s need to utilise its fat stores. When you consider this alongside the fact that a small glass of wine contains 100 calories and a pint of real ale can easily hit 200, you can start to appreciate how counter productive alcohol consumption is for an athlete trying to watch their weight. One night of heavy drinking can undo a week’s worth of healthy eating and training.

The Effects of Alcohol on Health

I’ve yet to meet a doctor which recommends the consumption of alcohol. There are a few studies you can find which will talk about the benefits of certain types of alcohol (normally on the front page of a tabloid newspaper) due to the presence of antioxidants, but these effects aren’t always repeatable in other studies, or may only be limited to specific population groups. If there are any health benefits from certain drinks, they’re outweighed by the effect that regular alcohol consumption itself has on the body, as the diagram below shows.

Image Credit: NASM

I probably don’t need to talk you through the above, but it doesn’t paint a pretty picture. Alcohol is a class 1 carcinogenic, which means it has a very significant risk of causing cancer at some point compared to other substances.

Alcohol consumption also increases heart rate, which in turn increases blood pressure. It affects our testosterone and/or oestrogen levels, which are critically important for sexual function as well as athletic performance.

You may believe that alcohol helps you get a good night’s sleep, but it disrupts our sleep patterns by restricting the amount of REM (rapid eye movement) and deep sleep we can access. I can’t think of many individuals who feel refreshed and well rested after a big drinking session. No matter how late they sleep in the next day.

The Effect of Alcohol on Triathlon

Now we’re done with the theory, let’s put it into practice. How will alcohol affect your triathlon performance and training?

The biggest issue is with regards to recovery. As mentioned above, alcohol has a huge effect on sleep quality (not quantity). Swimming, cycling, running and lifting don’t make us fitter, they just create a training stimulus. Without sufficient recovery we won’t actually get any fitter, we’ll just run ourselves into the ground. If you sink a few pints to “recover” from your ride, you will undo some, if not all of your hard work. While the exact effects alcohol has on adaptation to endurance training haven’t been researched extensively at the time of writing, it has been proven to have a notable effect on muscle protein synthesis (Duplanty et al., 2017; Parr et al., 2014). This is the process of your body using proteins to create new muscle fibres, giving us bigger, stronger muscles. This is more of a concern for bodybuilders than triathletes, but may make an endurance athlete’s DOMS last for longer than they’d like.

Chemistry aside, what are the real world implications of heavy drinking? Alcohol affects your proprioception, which is your awareness of the world around you and how to react to it. This can result in entirely avoidable injuries such as a sprained ankle or fracture from missing a step on your way to/from the toilets. More than once an athlete of mine has been coming into good form after a hard winter of base training, but come back to the UK with their foot in a medical boot and their season in tatters after a heavy drinking session combined with ice on a ski holiday.

If you drink so much that you vomit, you lose a lot of the nutrient stores in your body, and are unlikely to feel up to high quality training the next day. If you wake up hungover, you may well miss a day’s training, or have a very poor session as you try to push through a thumping headache and nausea. Considering the weekend is both the time you’re most likely to drink heavily, and have your important training sessions, this can cause significant long term disruption to your training schedule.

The Social Aspect of Alcohol

There are a lot of uncomfortable truths in relation to triathlon and alcohol, but the more information we have, the better informed we are to make our own decisions. What follows is less backed up by science, and based more on my opinions/experiences.

At this point you probably think I’m a tee totaller. The truth is that I do mix alcohol and triathlon, enjoying a drink or two with friends once every couple of months, for the reasons that it’s social and helps us relax. If an alien species observing us saw the pros and cons of combining triathlon and alcohol they would find it hard to justify, but it’s ingrained in our society. Any major life event from a new arrival to a new job or leaving drinks to a funeral will be marked with alcohol in most circles. Alcohol helps us let go of our inhibitions, tell some tall tales and switch off that background noise in our head. It leaves most people feeling more relaxed and friendly, which as a sociable species is important.

The key in my opinion is moderation. If you have a couple of drinks once a month when catching up with old friends, get to bed at a reasonable time and still hit your workout the next day, I would be a very unreasonable coach to tell someone this wasn’t acceptable. If however your average Friday night looks like consuming 10+ drinks, falling face first into a kebab shop on the way home, then spending the next day with your head down a toilet as you bring it all up when you could be getting a long run in, this becomes more of a problem.

However, peer pressure is massive for some. They simply can’t turn down a drink, and the only social activity they can enjoy with any regularity in their friendship circle is heading to the local bar for a few drinks. In their eyes, they’re not making a choice between alcohol and triathlon, they’re making a choice between a social life and triathlon. As a social support circle is a huge part of training, it would be very short sighted to expect your average triathlete to choose between the two. It may actually do more harm to their performance to ask them to walk away from their friendship groups than is caused by the alcohol intake itself.

This is where non alcoholic beers come in. Many athletes enjoy the taste of alcohol and don’t want to miss out on a summer evening in a pub garden with old friends. You can you stick to non alcoholic beer all night or simply switch to them when you feel you’ve had enough and are worried how it may affect your training tomorrow. They are now widely available to enjoy in most drinking establishments, and come without the connotations associated with sitting in front a glass of cranberry juice.

As well as avoiding the metabolic effects of ethanol and the negative effects on our central nervous system, non alcoholic beers also contain less calories than their full strength counterparts. Most brands non alcoholic offering contains between 20-30% of the calories of their alcoholic counterparts.

Image courtesy of free-beer.co.uk

However, some people might still take issue here. They’ll berate you for “not keeping up” or suggest you’re weak for avoiding having a “real” drink. At this point, I would be reviewing my relationship with these people and looking to surround myself with more like minded individuals who share my current values. Your local triathlon, cycling or running club is a good place to start if you want to mix training with socialising.

Conclusion

So, we’ve ascertained that alcohol is inherently bad for you, but it can be important for social and relaxation purposes. So how as triathletes should we apply this knowledge?

Firstly, it all depends on your goals. Are you trying to go under 10 hours in an Ironman, or are you hoping to complete your first super sprint? How much have you already invested in your performance? Would the happiness and sense of accomplishment you get from achieving your goals offset some potential social isolation?

If you’ve spent thousands on a high end bike, invested in high quality coaching, optimised your nutrition, and are looking for that extra 5% to help you excel, then cutting out or reducing alcohol intake is an easy win. If however you are just doing a short race for fun with some friends and training 2-3 times a week, it would be disproportionate to go tee total if moderate alcohol consumption is an important part of your social life.

When trying to make decisions, I always ask myself what I’m more likely to regret. If I fail to make the bike cutoff at an Ironman and reducing alcohol intake may have made the difference between me getting round or not, how would I feel? Equally, if I abstain completely for the sake of a race where I have a mediocre performance, will I regret taking such a hardline approach? In the same way athletes periodise their training, you may want to consider periodising your alcohol consumption. Being a bit more relaxed when the training is easier, then cutting back as you approach race day.

Finally on a more sombre note, athletes can be more susceptible to excessive alcohol consumption than non athletes. This often takes the form of having a single drink in the evening after a training session, which can tip your weekly drink consumption into the double digits if you’re not careful. If you feel the need to use alcohol to moderate your mood or others comment on the amount of alcohol you are consuming, I recommend you seek support from your local health provider. I can’t recall anyone telling me they regret going sober. For athletes in the UK, here are some NHS approved resources and support services where you will be able to receive non judgemental support and advice: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/alcohol-advice/alcohol-support/

The author Simon Olney is a British Triathlon High Performing Coach and Certified Nutrition Coach

IRONMAN UK Race Guide

First things first, this is not the official Ironman UK athlete’s guide with all the information you’ll need on the day itself. That all important document can be found on the Ironman website in the last couple of months before the event. This is a piece written by me, Simon Olney, professional triathlon coach and Ironman UK finisher, here to share some pragmatic advice with you ahead of race day. The information provided here is based on the knowledge I have acquired over the years of training athletes for this event and racing myself. The race changes every year in some respect, so always trust information from the race officials over anything you read here.

Secondly, I have written an in depth article on generic race day tips for Ironman events, which can be found here. For the purposes of this article I will assume you have read the other article, or already be familiar with other Ironman branded events, as combining the two would be unwieldily.

With all that taken care of, let’s dive in.

About The Race

A cyclist receiving a high five from a Mexican wrestler
Image credit Ironman

Ironman UK is one of the hardest Ironman races in the world. It may not have the brutal winds of Lanzarote, the humidity of Kona, or the mountain ascents of Nice; but the relentless steep climbs, unpredictable weather and hilly run course gave the race a DNF rate of over 20% in 2019. That means that for every five people who collect their number from registration, at least one will have gone home without a medal. 2019 was a particularly difficult year with 2500M of elevation gain on the bike, but the race traditionally has a high DNF rate.

The support from the locals is pretty outstanding, with the population of the local area taking to the roads with signs, banners and musical instruments to cheer athletes on. At a couple of points it can feel like you are riding up a mountain in the Tour de France, with spectators filling the road either side of you.

Ironman UK has a traditional 17 hour time cutoff. You have 2:20 to finish the swim, 10:30 to finish the bike and the swim, then 17 hours to cross the finish line. All times are taken from the time you cross the timing mat at the start of the swim, so don’t think you’re at a disadvantage by starting at the back.

Long Term Planning

You are best off booking accommodation in the centre of Bolton if you can. This is so your room is only a short hobbling distance from the finish line. A minibus service runs from the city centre to the Pennington Flash on race day, as well as parking being available in the nearby Leigh Sports Village. You’ll need to book well in advance to get a spot in the centre though, so don’t put off booking a room.

You may also want to check whether they’re serving breakfast early at the hotel you’re looking at. Many do, to ensure you can get some proper food ahead of the start.

I highly recommend travelling up on the Friday if at all possible, as registration closes midday on Saturday, and if you’re delayed on the Saturday morning you won’t be racing, or eligible for a refund. You also have a busy schedule on the Saturday, so need all the time you can get to avoid a panic.

On the Weekend

Once you arrive, the first thing you should do is register, as this is time sensitive. Once you have your race number and wristband, it’s time to head back to your hotel to pack your bags. This is covered in depth in our main article (link at the top of the page), but pay close attention to the forecast on the day, and pack anything you think you might need in your bike bag.

Once your bags are packed, it’s time to head to the Pennington Flash to rack your bike. Parking is available on the Saturday, but there is a one way stretch of road coming into the venue so it can be a bit sticky at busy times. Once you re-build your bike, take it for a quick ride around the car park, trying all the gears and brakes, to ensure everything is working as it should. If it isn’t, or you need some last minute spares, mechanics are available in T1 who can help you. Mechanical tweaks are normally free, but you will have to pay for any parts.

Once you rack your bike, it’s time to head into the marquee to collect your timing chip. Protect this like your firstborn child, as getting a replacement in the morning will not be easy, and you’ll be charged for a replacement. It’s a level of stress you can probably do without. In the marquee you’ll also be hanging your bike bag on a hook for collection once you exit the swim. Make sure your bag is hanging on the correct hook, as they will be numbered.

After everything is in place, take the time to walk down to the swim exit (the left most of the ramps as you look at the water), and walk to T1 tracing the steps you’ll take on race day. In previous years, this has always ran to the left of transition. From here head into the marquee, over to where your bag is, then outside to where your bike is waiting. This will help it become second nature on the day, and save you getting confused. It’s also a good way to check your bag is on the correct hook!

Once T1 is setup, it’s time to head to T2 which is a much simpler affair, simply hanging your bag up in the marquee, though a walk through is still a good idea. Take the time while you’re here to find where your bike racking spot is, so you have one less thing to think about on race day.

The most difficult part of preparing T2 is parking, as the traffic wardens will be out in force ticketing cars which are parked on pavements or left on double yellows, so it’s worth finding somewhere legitimate to park. Contrary to the demands of many, Ironman will not refund your parking fine.

At this point, you should be ready to go, all you need to do is turn up tomorrow in your wetsuit and perform one of the single greatest single day challenges in the world. You’ve got this.

Race Morning

In an ideal world you would have breakfast around 3 hours before the start, however this just isn’t practical for the most part. That being said, you ideally want to avoid eating within 90 minutes of the start, so try to get something down you early if you can. I recommend you change into what you plan to wear for the swim before you leave the hotel, as there are no changing facilities at Pennington Flash and you don’t really want to be changing in a portable toilet.

If you’re driving and parking in Leigh Sports Village, it’s a five minute walk. You will need to load special needs bags and your streetwear into the waiting trucks which normally close up around 45-60 minutes before the swim start. You will also want to pop into transition to check your bike and pump up your tyres before the start, so I recommend arriving 90 minutes before the start, as this time will disappear very quickly, and you don’t want to be stressed on the morning of your big day.

Once you are in your wetsuit with goggles at the ready, it’s time to take your place in the starting pen. This takes the form of a long line of barriers running from the swim start all the way back to transition. There will be boards placed at intervals along this, which designate estimated swim times, ranging from 50 minutes all the way up to 2:20.

It’s imperative you place yourself in the correct area of the swim start. Your time is taken from when you start the swim, not from when the gun goes, so there is nothing to be gained from starting further towards the front of the race. All that will happen is you’ll get swim over by faster swimmers coming from behind, vastly increasing the chances of you having a panic attack as you are pushed under the water.

Once the race starts, it may take up to 30 minutes for you to enter the water as the swimmers slowly shuffle forward. Once you get to the edge of the ramp you’ll hear two beeps in short succession as your timing chip registers on the mat. You are now on an Ironman race course.

Swim

The swim start of Ironman UK with spectators lining the shore
Image credit Ironman

Enter the water very carefully, as the water is shallow, and the entry point is wet. I’ve seen plenty of swimmers fall into the water here, so take it steady.

Once in the water, I recommend you swim slightly to the right, unless you are a confident swimmer. As the course is a series of left hand turns, those looking to put in a fast time will be staying as far left as possible, and if you’re a novice swimmer you don’t want to get caught up in the brawl. Swimming off line will add a bit of distance to your swim, but in my opinion it’s worth it to avoid being half drowned.

The first turn buoy will be just over 1KM away, which is the equivalent of 40 lengths of a 25M pool. It may look like a long way, but your training should have prepared you well for this. After a couple of hundred metres the adrenaline and fear should have receded and you’ll find yourself in the state of mind you’ll find yourself in all day, which should be a calm, controlled mindset.

At this point, check in on your pacing. Can you sustain this effort for the duration of the race? This isn’t an Olympic distance race where you want to find some fast feet and sit in, this is an all day adventure and your pacing strategy starts now.

Once you reach the far end of the course it’s a pair of left hand turns before you head back to shore. These turn buoys really are a pinch point, so give them a wide berth if you don’t want to risk getting dragged under. Once you have navigated these, it’s back to the shore to complete your first lap.

As you approach the swim exit, it’s worth sighting more regularly to ensure you’re on track for the arch. Kicking a bit more will help your legs wake up here, and make you less prone to dizziness when you come out of the water. You will run (or walk) a short, left hand loop back to the a jetty next to the swim entry ramp to start your second lap, but be aware of potentially feeling light headed as blood starts rushing around your body. Lap two will be largely the same as the first, but with more in the way of traffic in the water. Be prepared for some very slow swimmers you may not expect, so sight a bit more often. As there will be fewer swimmers around you by now, you should be able to swim slightly closer to the buoys without incident, should you wish.

T1

As you come out of the water, you’ll be making your way to the marquee, just like your walk through the day before. Grab your bike bag and don’t rush your transition like you might in shorter races. It’s worth taking the extra 15 seconds to get yourself in a good place, rather than rush out and realise you left some food in your bag. On your way you your bike, stick your blue bag into the big crate of bags to be delivered to T2 later.

As you make your way towards the bike mount line, give other athletes plenty of space. Some will be disorientated from the swim, others will not be in control of their bike, and you don’t want to be part of a clash of bikes before you’re even in the saddle. Mount your bike in your preferred method (nothing you haven’t practiced extensively) and get ready to take on the 180Km bike course.

Bike

I wish I could give you a blow by blow account of the bike course, but the course changes every year, so instead I’ll offer some general advice which is applicable every year.

There is no Flat
An image of the very hilly bike profile
Profile of the 2019 event

You may laugh, but I’m being serious. There is next to no flat on the bike course, the only the exception of the run back into town after Sheephouse Lane. You will spend the entirety of the race either going up or down, which plays havoc with your pacing. It’s easy to get carried away passing people on the hills early on, caught up in the atmosphere and generally having a great time. However you have a long way to go, over a lot of hills, and with a marathon waiting for you at the end. Keep the heart rate reasonable on the hills, and don’t go tearing up them like a road cyclist attacking on a mountain stage.

The Road Surface is Terrible

In the UK, we are not known for the quality of our roads, and it’s especially bad north of the Watford Gap. While the local authority does make a point of repairing the worst offenders from the course in the runup to the event, you still need to keep an eye out. Ironman highlight most of the holes with spray paint in the runup to the race, but you need to keep your wits about you. There is also a lot of debris on the roads, so don’t carry 60KPH into the corners and expect to stay upright.

Lots of Corners Tighten

In the UK we have a habit of planting hedgerows along our roads. These act as a boundary for farmers and are great for wildlife, but terrible for visibility. What you may think is an innocent left hander may actually be a long, sweeping corner which then tightens. I’ve seen lots of bikes in hedges, and ambulances collecting riders from the other side of drystone walls on the course, so do yourself a favour and take it easy out there, especially if you haven’t driven or ridden the course before.

Dangerous Descents

I don’t use this word lightly, but some of the downhill sections in the past have been nothing short of dangerous. Steep gradient, poor road quality and restricted visibility combine to create some testing downhill sections. These sections are signed well by the organisers with instructions to slow down, but it’s worth developing your confidence riding downhill in the runup to the event if it’s something you struggle with.

Changing Conditions

In the past three editions the event has both had an edition where the bike was nearly shortened due to wildfires, and another edition where a rainstorm appeared out of nowhere, causing dozens of DNFs due to hypothermia and crashes. This isn’t a course you can prepare for by sitting on a turbo trainer all year round, you need good bike handling skills and resilience to the elements to succeed here.

The bike will be between two and three laps depending on the year, with a cutoff for each lap if you’re not moving at a pace fast enough to finish the course within the time limit. In recent years transition has moved into Bolton city centre where you will dismount your bike, rack it in your spot, and head into the marquee to don your running gear.

Run

A runner during the marathon
Yours truly at the halfway point

If you make it out of T2, you already have one hand on the finishers medal. Even if you power walk large sections of the course you should have enough time left to make it across the line within 17 hours.

To start with, you run through a rather uninspiring industrial area, before finding yourself in the pedestrianised area of Bolton City Centre. This is the spectating hot point, so be sure to lap up the support and keep an eye out for loved ones. The road will winds its way through the streets until it takes you past the finish line. You will have to run past the finish line no less than three times before you can finally turn right and run down the chute. Better get a wiggle on then.

Once you have passed the start/finish line you will find yourself in Queens Park, which is the steepest section of the course. It’s tempting at this point to run up the hill, but unless you’re confident in your ability to run the entire marathon nonstop, you’re probably better off walking this section to save your legs for later.

You will turn left onto Chorley New Road, somewhere you will become very familiar with for the next 3+ hours. The road is a long false flat (slight uphill) for 3KM, followed by a U-turn, and 3KM of a slight downhill. Once you finish the downhill, you will collect your marathon band. This will be green for your first lap, blue for your second lap, red for your third, and yellow for your fourth. It’s imperative you collect a band, and the right coloured one at that, to avoid having to get into any “discussions” with the race director after you finish.

Just like the bike course, the organisers will pull athletes with no chance of finishing off the course. If you’re worried about finishing within the cutoffs, but are collecting marathons bands at the end of each lap, you are on course to finish within the time limit. Keep your head down.

After this you will turn back into another section of Queens Park where you can admire the swans, and make your way back towards the town centre for another tantalising peek of the finish line.

The lap based nature of the course may mean that as you start your run, you will be seeing people finish, or at the very least with lots of bands on. Try not to think about this, and simply focus on your own race. Don’t be lulled into panic and increasing your pace, as this will almost certainly backfire.

Finish

An athlete running down the finishing chute
The finishing chute

After you collect your yellow band, you should feel unstoppable. It’s now a simple case of making your way back to the finish line, turning right, and down the red carpet. Make the most of the crowd and savour the moment.

Once you collect your medal and assume your new title of Ironman UK finisher, you will return your timing chip and make your way through to the finisher’s area. Here you will find massage, food and a finisher’s T-shirt for you to proudly wear in the gym. From here it’s time to make your way back to T2, collect all your belongings, and bask in your achievement. You are now one of the 1% of the world who has crossed an Ironman finish line, and not only that, you did it at one of the toughest events on the calendar.

Looking for some help to get you across the line? Check out our selection of Ironman training plans here: https://www.trainingpeaks.com/my-training-plans/Ironmanplans

Turbo Trainer Vs Smart Bike

For the cyclist or triathlete looking to train in a more structured way, indoor training is a must. It allows you to ride hard without interruption, worrying about road surface or other road users.

There are two primary options available for indoor training. One the one hand we have the ubiquitous turbo trainer. This is a device you mount your existing bike onto, providing resistance and power readings. Most modern turbo trainers are also what we call “smart” turbos. These change the resistance for you based on both manual input and that from a 3rd party app.

Next up we have the smart bike. These are a relatively recent invention, with the first Wattbike released in 2008, designed for use primarily by track cyclists. This was updated more recently with the Wattbike Atom, a bike designed for integration with modern training apps. In recent years other manufacturers including Wahoo, Stages and Tacx have launched their own smart bikes to rival this, seeing a gap in the market.

So, which option is superior? A turbo trainer or a smart bike? Of curse, it’s not quite as simple as that, but there are definite pros and cons to each. Let’s start by looking into each in a bit more detail.

Turbo Trainers

Wahoo Kickr Turbo Trainer

When you purchase a turbo trainer, you will be choosing between one of two options, wheel on or wheel off.

With a wheel on trainer you can simply mount the whole bike onto a trainer using a clamp, however there’s a bit more to it than that. You have to make sure the drum the tyre presses against is at the correct tension and the tyre is at the correct pressure. The trainer will also place a lot of wear on your tyres. To get around this many cyclists buy a second wheel to place an indoor specific tyre on, which they will swap out when they ride indoors. As many cyclists will look at wheel on trainers to avoid having to remove their rear wheel, this removes much of the appeal.

Most turbo trainers are wheel off trainers, where you remove the back wheel and place the bike on the trainer itself. The advantages provided by these trainers are a greater potential for creating resistance, quieter operation, improved accuracy, more realistic ride feel and smaller unit size. The only real downside is if you plan to share the trainer with another rider whose groupset isn’t compatible with yours, as the cassette lives on the trainer. A cassette swap is a five minute job with a bit of practice, but it’s a barrier to getting your workout done, especially if you’re not feeling motivated that day.

One downside of all turbos is that by riding your bike indoors, you are putting wear on it. All components have a shelf life, and riding a turbo trainer will place wear on your components. Making sure your drivetrain is clean before placing it on the turbo trainer, and regularly checking your chain length can help with this.

Some frame manufacturers don’t cover turbo use under their warranty, so you may find yourself out of pocket if your bike is damaged on the turbo trainer. Damaging a bike on a turbo trainer is incredibly difficult, and as long as you attach it to the turbo tightly, the chances of damage are incredibly low unless you do something silly.

Pros

  • Cheaper
  • Smaller
  • Correct position every time
  • Minimal setup or fussing
  • Can take with you when travelling

Cons

  • Slightly noisier
  • Places wear on your parts
  • Potential frame warranty issues

Next up, we’ll look at what you can expect from a smart bike

Smart Bikes

The Wattbike Atom Smart Bike

There are two very noticeable differences between turbo trainers and smart bikes. The size, and the price tag.

While many turbo trainers can fold up and fit behind your sofa if you are tight on space, a smart bike needs a dedicated space, perhaps even dedicated room to use. They also come in at over twice the prize of a top end turbo trainer. So, what do you get for your money?

Smart bikes are almost silent, due to the absence of a moving parts. While the latest turbos are whisper quiet compared to classic trainers which would give jet engines a run for their money, you still have the mechanical nose of the chain, which smart bikes remove. There will still be some humming as you put down the big watts, but if you have a sleeping baby in the house or live somewhere with thin walls/floors, this could justify the purchase of a smart bike over a turbo trainer.

Smart bikes also require less calibration, due to not only their ability to self calibrate, but the fact they don’t get moved around as often as a turbo trainers do. This means your power readings will be more accurate, if you are using the Smart bike’s power meter. I encourage everyone who uses a power meter outside to also use it inside, overriding the power meter on your turbo/smart bike for more consistent readings, so this won’t be as much of an issue for many.

The big downside to smart bikes for me is adjustability. While you generally have a great degree of freedom to get yourself in the right position with smart bikes, 1mm can be the difference between a great ride and a painful one for some cyclists, so replacing your position fully on a smart bike is an ongoing battle for many. A little higher, a little shorter, try a little lower again, the tweak are often endless, especially if sharing with another rider and you have to adjust each time you ride. One client I’m working with was using a smart bike, but the fixed crank length on his model meant it exacerbated a hip issue. As a result, he had to sell his smart bike and buy a turbo trainer.

Getting the basic measurements (reach, saddle height, frame size) right can take a bit of work, but once you look at replicating a TT position on a smart bike, you’re in a world of pain. TT positions are incredibly difficult to get comfortable in at the best of times, let alone replicate on another piece of machinery. Getting the stack height, length of bars, angle of bars and gap between the bars millimetre perfect on two separate bikes is maddening. Some smart bikes allow you to use your own handlebars, but the front end of triathlon bikes are not cheap, you’d be looking at around £500 minimum to replicate the cockpit of your aero bike onto your smart bike. When you consider you’re already paying a premium to be riding a smart bike in the first place, any extra expense to get comfortable on it seems difficult to justify.

Some bikes will also have features such as showing your pedalling technique, and automatic adjustments to gradient or road feel. If a manufacturer develops both smart bikes and

Pros

  • As close to silent as you’ll get
  • Some models have intuitive features
  • Save wear on your components
  • Less calibration issues

Cons

  • Very difficult to replicate exact road position, especially for TT setups
  • Expensive
  • Bulky

Next up we answer the question you came here for. Turbo trainer vs smart bike, which ones wins out?

Conclusion

For my money, the downsides to a smart bike do not outweigh the cost. You may save yourself money on components, but if you consider a chain costs around £20, and you’re paying a premium of around £1000 to upgrade to a smart bike, it’s probably something of a false economy. Getting the position right on them can be incredibly difficult, and they just don’t feel as good to ride. The purchase of a smart bike should come down to the following question:

Will it make you a faster triathlete?

The answer here, compared to to a turbo trainer, is an emphatic ‘no’. Smart bikes have the potential to provide some convenience, but their features don’t justify the price for my money. If you’re primarily an indoor cyclist, are a road cyclist less sensitive to position, or are just looking to get fit at home, smart bikes may well be the product for you.

None of the professional triathletes I know have switched to a smart bike and they’re not aggressively marketed in triathlon media. You may see lots of triathletes on Instagram riding smart bikes, or hear your club mates taking about their flashy new indoor bike, but the root of this is the assumption that the most expensive option is the best option. If money is no object and you want to be the best athlete you can, the £2500 option must be better than the £1000 option. That’s how it works, right?

If you’re torn between a turbo trainer and a smart bike, make the decision that’s right for you, your budget, goals and lifestyle. I don’t want to tell you what to do. However if you’re a happy turbo trainer user, wondering if a smart bike will take your training to the next level, the chances are it won’t justify the investment.

I hope this article doesn’t come across as too negative, I have a lot of love for all the manufacturers of smart bikes, I think they’re great products which do the job they’re designed to do incredibly well. However, the demands on triathlon just don’t line up with the functionality of the bikes, and it won’t be an easy problem for manufacturers to fix.

If you had already justified a smart bike to yourself, you could instead consider some race wheels, an aero helmet, or some coaching. All of which are almost guaranteed to provide more bang for your buck.

Why Is Cycling so Expensive?

It’s the question that has crossed the mind of every aspiring cyclist or triathlete, why is cycling so expensive? You may have had a budget in your head of £100 (or regional equivalent) for your bike, but it seems even that is unlikely to leave you walking away with a bike. Let alone a road bike. That’s before you even get to the clothing and accessories.

Why is cycling so expensive? Is the whole industry a rip off? In this article we’re going on a deep dive into the cycling industry to find out. We’re going to be focusing on road cycling as this is the area I’m mot familiar with. The majority of the points here apply to off road as well.

Why Shouldn’t I Buy a £100 bike?

These bikes are what I have seen fondly referred to as “bike shaped objects” by mechanics. This may come across as snobbery, but there’s logic here.

These bikes are designed to be taken out for a short ride on flat terrain a couple of times a year. The quintessential family bike ride. They’re heavy, sluggish and will break very easily. When it does break, you will probably pay 30-40% of the value of the bike to fix it. The tyres will puncture easily, the chain will probably fall off without much encouragement, and you’ll struggle to get spare parts.

What Should I Buy Instead?

In contrast, let’s look at the classic starting bike, the Specialized Allez. Like many cyclists, I started out on one of these dream machines. Other brands are available.

A Specialized Allez Road Bike

So, what does this bike offer which our bargain basement bike doesn’t?

Lighter

For many cyclists, a lighter bike is a better bike. If you get passed on the hills by those on much lighter bikes, this is very demoralising as you feel powerless. An entry level road bike like an Allez could be twice as light as a cheap bike. It still isn’t that expensive in the grand scheme of road cycling, but it’s a big step up.

Lasts Longer

I’m probably not exaggerating by much when I estimate that this bike will last 100 times longer than a cheap bike. I rode mine for the best part of 15,000 miles without major issue. Yes I needed to replace some parts, but when you consider you’re lucky to get 100 miles out of a cheap bike without needing to take it to a mechanic, the difference in longevity is remarkable. It’s actually cheaper to pay more up front in the long run.

More responsive

The Specialized pictured above uses a Shimano Sora groupset. This refers to the brakes, gears, shifters, chain e.t.c.

When you shift a gear on this bike, it will jump to the new gear less than a second. When you shift a gear on a bike shaped object, it will make a slow, clunky shift. If you’re lucky it’ll end up in the gear you wanted to without jumping around. If you’re not changing gear much this doesn’t matter. But if you’re on rolling terrain and want to use your gears to make life easier, this can be frustrating.

In addition, when you turn a corner, the steering will feel silky smooth for a long time. Meanwhile, a cheaper bike’s bearings will wear quickly. Especially when it gets wet.

Upgrade Potential

Once you’ve been riding for a year or two, you’ll probably find yourself looking at some upgrades for your bike. This could be more gears, better brakes or a new saddle. These upgrades are designed to fit traditional road bikes. Cheaper bikes often have non standard fixtures, as they don’t expect to be upgraded.

When you can be looking at £80 for a comfortable saddle, you will very quickly get to the place where you’re almost spending as much on single components as you did on a cheap bike.

Inevitable Regret

If you buy a cheap bike and get bitten by the cycling bug, you’ll end up regretting it. Whether you ride with friends who leave you for dust, or it breaks down yet again at the furthest point from home and you need to call for a pick up; you’ll end up having to sell it for a fraction of what you paid for it, and buying a more expensive bike anyway.

So, where does my money go?

The Specialized Allez starts at £650, which is a lot of money to spend on a bike. So where does the money go? And why would someone look to spend £5000 on a bike?

Quality of Materials

A bike being build in the Colnago Factory, Italy
Image copyright Sigma Sports

The biggest factor which makes cycling expensive is the materials used in manufacture of the parts. If you want a cheap steel frame, you can get this for a song. However, it will be very heavy. There are Chinese factories which manufacture counterfeit bikes, which they sell on for a fraction of the cost. However, there’s a good chance these will break, potentially injuring you in the process.

When looking to purchase something it can be cheap and light. Or strong and cheap. Most bikes need to be both light and strong, but this doesn’t come cheap. For a bike to be able to withstand thousands of miles on the road without damage the materials have to be carefully chosen. They also have to be treated in a specific way to ensure performance and safety.

This extends beyond the frame materials to everything on the bike. Wheels are notoriously expensive because they have to both be incredibly light, and withstand huge forces from hitting potholes without buckling. There will always be a cheaper option out there, but this will come with a penalty to performance and longevity.

Research and Development

A bike in a wind tunnel for aerodynamic testing

If you want to create the lightest and fastest bike on the market, this involves a considerable amount of research and development. This involves paying designers and engineers to build prototypes, time spent in a wind tunnel, stress tests on the frame itself, and dozens of other steps between concept and the bike appearing for sale at your local bike shop. These costs are passed onto the consumer when they purchase the bike, to help the bike manufacturer stay in business. And help them keep pushing the boundaries.

Pro Team Sponsorship

A bike sponsor will provide a World Tour team with hundreds of bikes over the course of a year. When you consider many manufacturers will sponsor multiple teams, you’re looking at companies spending hundreds of thousands over the course of a year to support professional teams. They hope to recoup the cost by inspiring customers to buy their bikes via the team. If you think recreational cycling is expensive, wait until you see the costs involved with running a professional team!

Running of the Business

Smaller bike manufacturers will only really make money from selling frames. The sale of bikes cover everything from the receptionist’s salary to the van they use for deliveries. If companies did not make a profit from each sale, they wouldn’t be able to stay in business, offer warranties or provide any customer service. While some products provide manufacturers and retailers with a large profit margin, bike frames are not one of them, and the whole industry relies on bike manufacturers staying in business.

But What About Expensive Cycling Clothing? Some Kit Costs As Much as Cheap Bikes

A Castelli Idro cycling waterproof

It’s true that you can get a cheap bike for the cost of some waterproof jackets, but it all comes back to performance. When cycling you build up a huge amount of heat. When you cover yourself with what is essentially a plastic bag, this traps the heat and causes the rider to overheat. You may keep the rain off you with cheap jackets, but you’ll get soaked with sweat, losing a lot of sodium in the process which hurts your performance in itself. A high end waterproof jacket will be far more breathable, while still keeping you dry.

Expensive cycling jerseys may be incredibly lightweight for summer riding, aerodynamic for use in time trials, or windproof for riding in poor weather. However, they may also be expensive simply for the sake of fashion. Where bikes themselves are all about performance, clothing is far more susceptible to trends, and you can get away with spending a bit less here. Cheaper kit will be heavier, not as breathable and won’t fit as nicely, but this will have far less of an effect on your ride than a bike which is constantly breaking.

Do I Need to Spend a Lot on a Helmet?

A Kask Mojito cycling helmet

All of the helmets for sale will meet basic safety standards, so you don’t need to spend a lot on a helmet to keep you or a loved one safe. Money spent on an expensive cycling helmet can make it more aerodynamic (faster), lighter and more breathable. Cheaper helmets will feel like a block of polystyrene on your head, where you won’t notice you’re wearing a more expensive one. There are safety systems such as MIPS available on some models, which is suggested to improve safety for a small price increase.

Fit is more important than cost when it comes to safety. You shouldn’t be able to fit more than two fingers under the chin strap, and it shouldn’t be too tight, or too loose on your head.

Manufacturers Will Charge What People are Willing to Pay

This is true in many industries, but is especially true in cycling. Many people will walk into a bike shop, ask for the latest bike, and price won’t even be discussed. They might not even look at the total. Manufacturers will push the very limit of what current technology permits, because they know someone will buy it and justify the investment in developing the product. It will also win professional races, building their brand.

The good news is that these customers help keep manufacturers in business, which allows them to keep the price down on their entry level bikes. Top end bikes will rarely be discounted in a meaningful way, but many components and accessories will be discounted within a matter of months following their release.

Conclusion

There are many factors which make cycling expensive, but you don’t have to remortgage your house to get started. A budget of £1000 will get you up and running with a setup that lasts years, and prove to be more economical than going for the cheapest possible option.

If you’re looking to get started, check out our article on choosing a road bike

Taking Your Triathlon Training to the Next Level

Once you’ve completed your first event or two, you’ll be riding the high of achievement, yet also slightly downbeat. While you’re proud as punch of your performance, you can’t quite get over why you got dropped so quickly at the start, how fast the cyclists who lapped you were going, or quite how it’s possible for the announcer to be calling in the winner as you come into T2. You make a vow, it’s time to take your triathlon training to the next level.

But what does this mean? The intention is clear, you want to get faster, but how do you plan to achieve that? There’s a lot of information out there, but much of it is conflicting. What you may think makes you faster just exhausts you for no tangible improvement to your times.

What follows is a list of recommendations to help you improve how you train, and therefore your performance. We cover the very basics first, the low hanging fruit which will provide the greatest benefits, before we start digging in a little deeper.

The focus here is on improving the training process, rather than the best way to improve your performance. While there are all sorts of products, gadgets and tips to help you race 1% faster, consistent, considered training needs to be the foundation.

Follow a Structured Plan

This doesn’t have to be a complex paid for plan from a website such as TrainingPeaks, but having some structure to your training will really help you develop as an athlete. This could be as simple as knowing you will have a long ride and a long run on the weekend which gets progressively longer each weekend, with two swims in the week and other workouts dotted in as and when you can fit them in. Alternatively, it could be an incredibly specific plan, tailored for you as an individual with specific targets on each day.

The benefit of a structured plan is that it holds you to a kind of accountability, and if you follow the basic principles of periodisation, will help ensure you’re doing the right kind of training at the right time of year. There are plenty of free, basic training plans available online, the race organiser of your event may even have one on their website.

Consistency is king in triathlon, and following a plan ensures you stay consistent. This is a guaranteed way to take your triathlon training to the next level.

Take Rest Days and Recovery Weeks

white and tan english bulldog lying on black rug looking tired
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Training breaks your body down, recovery makes it stronger. You may think that training for seven days a week proves your dedication and will propel you to greatness, but the chances are this will just result in non-functional overreaching and long term exhaustion. When we back off and allow our body to recover, we reap the benefits of our training, and are able to go hard at the next time of asking. One day of complete rest a week, and an easier recovery week every 3-4 weeks is recommended for the vast majority of athletes.

Get More Sleep

A woman sleeping
Photo by Ivan Oboleninov on Pexels.com

Most of us don’t get enough sleep. Between work, family, training and the desire for some “me” time in front of the TV, we can slip into the habit of getting less than six hours sleep per night. While rest days allow our body a break from training, adaptation to the training stimulus itself happens primarily during deep sleep. Ever wonder why you can do a hard session in the morning, feel fine for the next 12 hours, then upon waking the next day feel like the tin man? It’s only when we sleep that our body sends the signals to repair the muscles and generate more mitochondria. If we’re stingy with our sleep, our performance will suffer, and we increase the risk of burnout. There’s no point taking your triathlon training to the next level if you’re not receiving the benefits.

Eight hours may not be achievable for everyone due to work/family, but heading to bed at 10:30PM and waking at 6:30AM isn’t unreasonable for most people, and ticks the box of the magic eight hours.

Work on Your Weaknesses

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re not the world’s greatest swimmer. In fact the mere smell of neoprene may initiate a fight or flight response in you. I struggled with this for many years. I overcame this not by hiding from it, but by getting in the pool three times a week and slowly chipping away.

It’s human nature to focus on what we’re good at, however if we really want to succeed in triathlon, we need to focus on where we can make the most time. If I spent an eight week training block focused on running with weekly hill reps, track work and long runs, I might be able to save a minute over 5K. This is a huge amount of time, and I’d feel very satisfied. But I’m not a runner, I’m a triathlete. If I had spent the time swimming instead focused on my running, I could have saved 2-3 minutes over 750M, resulting in a much greater improvement to my overall performance.

Get Some Swim Coaching

Swimming is the most technical sport by a long way, and you can only improve so much by ploughing up and down on your own. Whether you want to hire a coach on a 1to1 capacity or join a swim squad where the coach provides intermittent feedback, having an experienced set of eyes look at your stroke will work wonders. Coaching for cycling and running is also very valuable if you feel you struggle, but swimming provides the most gains for the majority of athletes.

Introduce Strength and Conditioning

Strength and conditioning for triathletes? Sacrilege! Well, it may not be your idea of a good time, but an effective strength and conditioning plan will provide you with a number of benefits to take your triathlon training to the next level, including but not limited to:

  • Reduced chance of injury
  • Improved muscular force
  • Greater range of motion
  • Reduced rate of technique breakdown
  • Moving better in day to day life

This doesn’t have to mean taking out a gym membership and tackling the free weights if you don’t want, but taking the time to strengthen your core, improve your balance and stretch/roll your tight muscles, even if only for 10 minutes a day, will provide an invisible yet important benefit to your training.

Get a Bike fit

A rider taking their triathlon training to the next level with a bike fit. A fitter gesturing to an image on screen
Image copyright Sigma Sports

Hopefully when you bought your bike they helped you choose the right size bike, and may have raised/lowered the saddle for you to get it in the right ballpark. However there’s much, much more to being comfortable on a bike than this. From choosing the right saddle, right handlebars and right shoes to getting these setup millimetre perfect, a professional can really help you get dialled in. When we’re comfortable on our bike we can put out more power for longer, and run better off the bike. Visiting a fitter based in a shop comes with benefits as they have lots of different components on hand for you to try out. Expect to pay £200 for a comprehensive experience, before parts or labour installing them.

Take Your Bike Training Indoors

An athlete taking their triathlon training to the next level by riding indoors
Image copyright Wahoo

Chances are we took up triathlon because we love the outdoors. But if it’s February, raining, and we only have an hour available, by the time we’ve bundled up and head out the door, we’re not going to get much of a session in. Combined with the risk of ice and low light levels in winter, training indoors becomes a very efficient alternative. The benefit of riding hard without worrying about traffic is not to be underestimated, which combined with software such as Zwift can provide an engaging experience.

Riding inside help maintain consistency, and consistency breeds success. This combined with the ability to ride intervals is essential when taking your triathlon training to the next level.

Monitor Training Intensity

PMC

Swimming, riding and running to feel will get you a long way. However if you really want to get fitter, you need a gauge to tell you what’s easy and what’s hard. Whether you use heart rate, power or pace isn’t of huge importance at this stage in your triathlon journey, but measuring your data, understanding it and reviewing it is key to high level triathlon performance. I recommend picking up a book on training to help you understand the data and decide what to do with the results.

Get Race Specific With Your Training

You’re swimming in open water on the day? You’d better get to your local lake once a week. If you’re planning to ride 180KM on a triathlon bike, you need to be doing your long rides on it. If the on course nutrition is a brand you’re not familiar with, you’d do well to try training with it ahead of race day to see if it works for you. When training for a hilly race, you’d better get some climbing in your legs. Once you get within a few months of your event, you need to start thinking about your workouts and how they help prepare you for race day.

Work With a Coach

Triathlon is an incredibly complex sport where we have a lot to fit into our training schedule, and need to learn to pick our battles. Working with a coach who understands you, communicates well with you and knows how to get the best out of you is the best investment you can make in your triathlon training, and will help you race much faster than spending thousands on fancy wheels for your bike. There are hundreds of coaches out there, offering different levels of service for different budgets, so don’t assume you can’t afford it.

We offer very comprehensive training programmes, as well as consultations for athletes looking for someone to point them in the right direction. Take a look if you’re dedicated to taking your triathlon training to the next level.

How To Prevent Punctures

We all want to prevent punctures. The dull thudding sound, sluggish steering and sensation you’re riding through treacle is all too familiar to anyone who has ridden a bike for a prolonged period of time. You have a flat tyre, which will need attention if you’re to continue your journey. If you’re lucky this will be on a warm summer’s morning and you’ll have a puncture repair kit with you, armed with the knowledge on how to repair it. If you’re unlucky it’ll be dark, cold and a long way from civilisation with no obvious way to fix it. Even worse, this could be during an event.

This experience can be traumatising for some, I’ve even hear multiple people tell me “I used to love riding to work, then I got a puncture, and my bike lives in the shed now”. While we can never 100% guarantee you’ll be puncture free, unless you run solid tyres, there are some simple steps you can take to prevent punctures. Saving you money on tubes and a lot of time in the process.

Buy Better Tyres

This is the biggest single thing you can do to prevent punctures, buy a tyre with better puncture protection. Some tyres can be purchased which a gel inside of them (such as slime tyres), but they are so heavy and slow you’ll want to steer clear of them for serious cycling, so you should instead be looking at tyres with a protective bead.

Most brands will have a nigh on bulletproof tyre (such as the Continental gatorskin) and a super minimalist tyre with no very little or no puncture protection (such as the Continental Grand Prix Supersonic), and many shades of grey between. Many novice cyclists will want to go for the most puncture protection they can their their hands on, which is completely understandable, but it does come at a cost.

The cost comes in weight and rolling resistance. Weight is quite obvious, a 32mm Gator Hardshell weighs in at 445g, so 890g for the pair. Meanwhile the aforementioned Supersonic weighs in at 140g, or 280g for the pair, that’s a whopping 610g difference, or the equivalent of carrying an extra water bottle on your bike. While this won’t have a huge effect on your times, you’d definitely notice the difference if you rode the two back to back.

The second price you pay is rolling resistance, this is how much resistance is created as the tyre rolls down the road. Sticking with our two examples, you lose 19.5w through the Gator Hardshell and only 10.2W through the Supersonic. If someone offered you 10 extra watts to your FTP, you’d probably bite their arm off, so this loss is not to be sniffed at.

Finally, we have grip. Many tyres boasting high levels of puncture protection will be made with a hard rubber compound to make it harder for sharp objects to penetrate the rubber, before it even gets to the protective band under the tyre. This comes at the cost of grip, and you’ll have less confidence going into wet corners as a result. I’ve ridden with people who call Gatorskins as “skaterskins” based on their lack of grip in the wet.

If you are a new cyclist looking to compete in your first event and the thought of puncturing during the race keeps you up at night, then the gatroskins will be fine. You won’t be leaning into the corners fast enough to worry about grip, and an extra minute or two onto your finishing time isn’t going to be a concern, so this might be the right tyre for you.

Even Tour de France riders aren’t immune. Image credit Cycling Weekly

If you are a high level cyclist looking for every possible gain, and will take your risks with the puncture gods for the possibility of a new PB, then the supersonic is probably the tyre for you.

However, the vast majority of us sit between these to categories. We want to avoid punctures, but not at the expense of performance. Over the course of a 180KM Ironman bike leg the chances are you’ll ride over something which will try to penetrate the tyre at some point, so don’t let the promise of low rolling resistance tempt you away from the pragmatic need for puncture protection. This is one of the few areas I recommend it’s worth spending a premium. Data on rolling resistance for individual tyres can be found at: https://www.bicyclerollingresistance.com/road-bike-reviews

Most bikes roll off the shop floor with very poor tyres on them, so I always recommend someone buys new tyres when they purchase a bike to avoid that inevitable puncture and frustrated trip back to the bike shop.

Replace your tyres when they wear

Like most parts on a bicycle, a tyre will wear and need replacing after a time. The rubber will be slowly worn away after hundreds of thousands of revolutions, and the compound itself will start to harden, creating small cracks which pieces of flint or glass can find their way into. Many tyre manufacturers have a wear indicator on their tyres, so make sure you replace them before they reach the limit. If not for puncture protection purchases, to stop the tyre failing dramatically on you at speed, which could result in injury,

Pull debris out of your tyres

Many sharp objects will find their way into the rubber, only to be stopped by the protective bead. This isn’t the end of their journey though, as there they will sit for the foreseeable future until you pull them out. Left unattended they may make their way through the protective bead slowly over many weeks, months or even years until they reach your inner tube and spoil your Sunday.

To keep on top of this, I recommend you deflate your tyre and check it over very carefully by eye, pinching it wherever you see a hole in the tyre to check if anything is wedged in there. If there is remove it gently with a small flathead screwdriver and fix the hole with a dab of superglue to prevent anything else making its way in there.

Avoid riding in the gutter

When starting cycling it can be tempting to push yourself as close to the kerb/verge as possible to stay out of the way of cars. I recommend against this for a number of reasons, partly because it makes you more likely to ride through pieces of broken glass, wing mirror or thorns which can cause punctures. As anyone who has ridden through Clapham early on a Sunday morning can attest, a lot of obstructions can find their way into the gutter so a wide berth should be given where possible.

I’m not advocating riding in the middle of the lane, but don’t be afraid to move a bit further out. It also prevents you getting squeezed by motorists, and gives you room to swerve if something appears in front of you.

Keep an eye out for hedge trimmings

In Britain we are lucky to have many of our roads lined with hedgerows, which local councils and farmers will maintain to ensure they don’t cause problems for traffic. This is normally achieved by driving a tractor with a special attachment along the road, leaving the trimmings on the road. This is necessary work to keep the road safe for all traffic, but the chances of thorns finding their way into the road are very high.

If you see lots of greenery on the ground next to a rather pristine hedge, it’s worth riding further out into the lane in an effort to avoid thorns where possible. Sometimes this isn’t possible, but it’s a sensible precaution to take where possible.

Be careful in wet conditions

While I don’t want to put people off riding in the wet as I think it’s an important part of a rider’s development, the likelihood of a puncture is increased. This is not only because the water can act as a form of lubricant helping a sharp object penetrate your tyre, but heavy rain also washes sharp objects onto the road in the first place.

There isn’t a huge amount you can do here except make extra sure you’re prepared to fix a puncture, and maybe take an extra spare tube.

Run Tubeless

Image credit Cyclist magazine

Tubeless tyres do a great job at preventing punctures. They work without a tube (as the name suggests), instead simply using pressure to hold the tyre to the rim, with a thin layer of sealant inside.

This helps prevent punctures as if the tyre is nicked, the hole will fill with sealant (normally spraying some around for a couple of seconds in the process) allowing you to continue your ride as if nothing had happened. This is the perfect solution for many, so why don’t more people run them?

They require special wheels. While most manufacturers now provide a ‘tubeless ready’ wheel of sorts, if you bought your bike before 2018 the odds are it isn’t tubeless ready. You’ll also need special tubeless tyres. If you have a perfectly good setup and don’t have issues repairing punctures, it’s probably not worth the investment.

Tubeless is fiddly, no-one can deny that. You will need a special kind of pump which stores up air to blast into the cavity at high pressure and help the tyre sit on the rim. While an experienced mechanic can get them setup pretty quickly, the rest of us can spend a lot of time and curse words, on getting a tubeless tyre installed. You have to remove the tyre, scrape off the sealant and apply fresh stuff intermittently as well, so it’s not a fit and forget solution.

If the hole is too big to be sealed, you can find yourself in real trouble. If the hole punched through your tyre is too wide for the sealant to form a new seal, air and sealant will continue to pour out until there is nothing left inside the tyre and you’re left helpless at the side of the road. If you have an inner tube and the kit required you can install the tube as a get out of jail card. It’s worth pointing out that clincher tyres can fail on you in a big way mid ride as well, it’s just less likely.

Top up Your Tyre Pressure

When you hit a pothole your tyre is compressed dramatically. If you are running a low tyre pressure, this can result in your tube being trapped between the rim and the road. Thus will normally result in the rim puncturing the tube itself, giving you two large, parallel cuts in your tyre, known as a snakebite (or pinch) puncture. If your tyre has a good amount of pressure inside it, the chances of the rim making contact with the road (or the bottom of the pothole to be more precise) are drastically reduced.

This means topping the pressure in your tyres up at least once a week, to a pressure which works for you. Deciding on the correct tyre pressure for you is worthy of a lengthy article in itself, but it’s a tradeoff between an overly harsh ride from a high pressure, and the risk of snakebite punctures from a low pressure.

Remove the Source of the Puncture When Changing Tubes

If you suffer a puncture, it can be very easy to make the swap, hop back on your bike, then in a matter of minutes find yourself with another flat tyre. There is a tiny chance you’ve been catastrophically unlucky, but it’s more likely that you forgot to remove the cause of the original puncture. If a thorn has made its way through your tyre and pierced the tube, but you fail to remove the thorn, it’s only going to do the same thing to the next tube you put in.

To prevent this, when you remove the tyre, take the time to find the sharp implement. If you can’t see it by eye, you can try very gently running your finger over the inside of the tyre to see if you can find it. Every now and then we have phantom punctures where there is no evidence of the sharp object, but more often than not it will still be stuck in the tyre.

Ensure your Rim Tape is Sitting Properly

Image Credit Park Tool

The rim tape is what sits underneath your inner tube, and protects the tube from being pinched by the spoke holes, which sit on the rim itself. If the rim tape isn’t sitting as it should be, this can expose the inner tube to the sharp ends of the spoke hole, which will inevitably result in a puncture sooner or later.

Conclusion

While I would dearly love to be able to provide you with a way to guarantee a puncture free cycling experience, it’s just not realistic. If you follow the above tips then with a bit of luck this should dramatically reduce the chance of you picking up punctures. If you suffer with repeated punctures, it may be worth taking the wheel to your local bike mechanic and ask them to check for any abnormalities, but more often than not, it’s simply the cycling gods taking exception to you.

IRONMAN and IRONMAN 70.3 Race Day Success

Note: This article is aimed at athletes who are preparing for an “official” IRONMAN branded race day. Not those who are completing the distance at “unofficial” events. If you are completing the distance at an even with a different organiser (Outlaw, challenge, independent), this is the article you need: 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 your Ironman race day can really put a spanner in the works. This may leave you disappointed with your time or even result in you 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 and race execution. This will help reduce stress and confusion on the day itself.

The following points are based on my experience of Ironman triathlons, however as the races are run as franchises there may be small differences in how each event is run. Always read the race information and defer to it over the advice I give here.

Long Term Planning

At some events you can put your bike in the back of the car, drive to the event, pay the entry fee and race. However an Ironman race day is one you need to put a lot of thought into. You will have likely signed up to many months in advance. You need a long term plan for the weekend, as at the very least you will need to be there the day before to register. Unless you live very locally, this involves finding accommodation in the area, and travelling down.

I highly recommend you travel down two days before to register. The reason for this is that if you get up at 7AM the day before the race for the 4 hour drive to the registration, and your car doesn’t start, there’s chaos on the railways or even just heavy traffic after an accident, that’s your ironman race day over before it’s begun. All that money on the entry, time invested in your training, all of it evaporates as registration closes at 12PM sharp the day before. No exceptions.

Packing

I recommend you pack your gear three to four days before you travel, even if means you’re training out of a suitcase for a few days. The reason is this gives you a chance to get the bike fixed if there’s a problem, to order a new trisuit if the zipper has broken, or new goggles if yours have completely fogged up. Finding these problems the day before an Ironman race day is a level of stress we can all do without.

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 inner tube, 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

During registration you will have indicated whether you wanted a special needs bag or not. I always encourage my athletes to say yes, so they can stick some expendables they may need in their bag. This could be a spare inner tube in case you’ve already used your spare, obscure nutrition you just might fancy on the marathon, and anything in-between. As yourself what you normally crave during a hard workout, and pack that.

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

Two Days Before Ironman Race Day

Registration

Your first port of call should be registration where you will receive the following:

Blue bag– This is for your bike kit. Everything that won’t be on your bike in the morning, more details below

Red bag– This is for your running kit. In most cases will simply be your running kit, more details below

Race number– This is essential to avoid a disqualification, in Europe you need to wear it on the bike, however this is not always a requirement in all territories, so check the race guide. Most athletes will run with a race belt which their number will be attached to, allowing them to spin it behind them on the bike, and round the front for the run as per the rules.

Swim Cap– Pretty self explanatory, this will be what you wear for the swim, and will be branded with the event name. It’s one way to ensure only registered athletes enter the water.

Rucksack– All events I’ve been to will give you a branded rucksack at registration. The quality can be variable, but they’re generally a good souvenir of the event.

Wristband– This will normally be attached by a volunteer, and you will be unable to remove it between now and the finish line. It’s proof that you are a registered athlete. It’s your ticket into transition and other athlete only areas.

Become One Wristband– For first time athletes, they will receive a special wristband denoting them as a first timer. These are completely optional to wear, but might get you a few more cheers out on course.

Stickers– You will be provided with stickers that belong on your helmet, bike and transition bags. This is to mark them as your property, and to allow for identification on course.

Bike Check

Take the opportunity to give your bike the once over by riding it around for a bit, changing through all the gears. Your bike will likely need to be disassembled for transport, and in the rebuilding process mistakes can be made resulting in irritating imperfections such as a gear shift being slower than normal, all the way up to a race ending mechanical such as your aero bars coming loose or your brakes not working correctly. All Ironman races I’ve attended have mechanics on site in T1 who will be there to fix any major problems, so don’t panic if you find yourself with an issue you don’t know how to fix. This is why we’re looking into it now.

The Day Before Your Ironman Race Day

If you have the time it’s good to get these jobs done two days before (where possible). You have quite a lot of jobs to get done today, so get started early to avoid any unnecessary stress.

Pack up and Mark Your Bags

Once you’ve had time to have your breakfast, it’s time to pack your bags. You will have up to five bags to pack and label with your number.. Your bike bag, your run bag, your streetwear bag, bike special needs and run special needs.

Bike Bag

Here you will need as bare minimum your helmet and race number attached to a race belt. The vast majority of athletes will put socks in here as well. For those not attempting a flying mount they will have their shoes in this bag as well.

Run Bag

Here you may simply have your shoes, but many will pack a fresh pair of socks to change into for the run, especially for a wet race. You may want a running cap/visor and some nutrition you’re expecting to take on at the start of the run.

Streetwear Bag

These are comfortable clothes for you to change into at the end of the event. These may be found in the finishing area or transition, depending on the race. Pay attention to the forecast at the time you hope to finish and pack accordingly.

Special Needs Bags

Your special needs bags can contain whatever you like. For your first event I suggest you put in some ‘fun’ nutrition you may need to pick you up at the end. This could a bag of your favourite crisps, a soft drink or anything else you may feel you crave once gels and bars get a bit too much. If you plan to be on course for close to 17 hours this is especially important, as it’s far more likely you’ll encounter gastrointestinal issues.

Setting Up Transition

Next up it setting up your transition area. If you are attending an Ironman race with split transitions I recommend you attend T1 first as it’s more complicated.

The first thing you’ll be doing is racking your bike. You may be used to arriving early and placing your bike in the most advantageous position at smaller races. However at Ironman events you will be designated a spot on the racking. Also, you will be unable to leave anything on the ground next to your bike, it will be a case of arriving at your bike with everything you need, grabbing it and running towards the “bike out” banner.

Once your bike has been racked (you are unable to cover it in any way I’m afraid), you will head to transition, which usually takes the form of a marquee. Here your first port of call should be to collect your timing chip. It is ESSENTIAL that you remember this tomorrow, so I would go so far as recommending putting it on your ankle straight away and not taking it off until you get back to the hotel. Nobody wants to be rifling through their bags trying to find where their timing chip is on the morning of the race.

Once you have your timing chip it’s time to rack your bags. This will be on hooks that may remind you of primary school. Once your bags are hung it’s time to walk outside to the transition area and find the point you will enter transition from the swim. If this isn’t clear ask a marshal.

Next, imagine you are coming out of the water, and practice your journey through T1. You will be walking/running towards the marquee, once you’re inside, where do you go? Walk over to your bag (double check it’s on the right hook) and work out where you will get changed. Will you use the benches, or would you prefer to use the gendered changing areas? Open your bag, imagine which order you’ll be putting everything on in. Is there anything you’ve missed? Once you’ve repacked your bag, find where you will drop it (full of swim kit), then head to your bike. How many racks do you need to pass? Are there any landmarks you can use to help you spot it easier? Once you get to your bike, how are you removing it, and where are you running with your bike?

Once you have finished this, head to the “bike in” banner, or T2 if using split transitions. Repeat the same process here, heading to your racking spot, then to the marquee to locate your run bag and check it has everything you need, before identifying the way out to the run course. This will only take 10 minutes max, but can you time and stress on the day.

Race Briefing

There will be a mandatory race briefing for you to attend, which may be in person or virtual. It’s important you attend to understand the course and any last minute changes. Attendance is mandatory, so make sure you factor this into your day.

Never Stand When you can Sit

You may have spent a few hours on your feet by now, in which case it’s important to take a load off. You don’t want to spend an hour browsing the merchandise tent when you could be resting your legs. I recommend most athletes go for a short, sharp run the day before to ensure they’re not stale for the race, then try to stay off their feet as much as they can.

The Last Supper

What you eat the day before has a large effect on your race, as it will help dictate how much energy is available to you at the start of the day. I recommend something simple and easily digestible. New potatoes, fish and vegetables is a personal favourite of mine, but listen to what your body wants, within reason! Next up, it’s time to head to bed, even if it’s just to lie down with the curtains drawn and your eyes closed, listening to a podcast or some music. Ideally you’d want to be drifting off by 9PM, but this is very difficult for some, so don’t stress yourself out too much, just drift off when you can.

Ironman Race Day

Your Ironman race day will normally start around 6AM, and you’ll want to get to the site for at least an hour before the start to drop off your special needs and streetwear bags, which normally have a cutoff of around 30 minutes before the swim start. This is especially important if you don’t have friends/family supporting who can take items to the finish for you. If the swim start is a distance from the finish line Ironman will normally put on shuttle buses to take athletes from the town centre to the swim start from 3AM. If you are driving, make sure you’ve checked the athlete guide for information on the best area to park, don’t assume you’ll be able to roll up to the swim start and abandon your car next to transition.

Before Leaving

Many big hotels close to races will provide a special early breakfast for athletes competing, but check this explicitly beforehand rather than assuming. 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 an Ironman 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. If you struggle to eat anything that early it’s worth grabbing something to go that you can nibble on throughout the morning.

This is also a good time to put your trisuit, to prevent having to get changed in a portaloo at the race venue.

Final Preparations

Now is the time to look at the details such as your tyre pressures as well as attach your shoes/computer to your bike. I recommend you stick to the tyre pressure you’re used training with in most cases, but consider dropping them slightly if rain is forecast. Try not to obsessively check your pressure as you increase the risk of damaging the valve, which is a problem can do without.

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 wetsuit 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. Most Ironman events use a self seeded swim start, but there are some exceptions.

Deep Water Start

Image Credit 220 Triathlon

Only used for the World Championship in Kona as far as I’m aware, athletes will self seed themselves (faster swimmers at the front), wait for the gun to go then start swimming. As you are very unlikely to encounter this in an official Ironman event, I won’t dwell on this here, however I have an article looking at deep water starts here.

Self Seeded Rolling Start

The most popular form of swim start at Ironman events. You will be placed in a queuing area denoted by placards showing predicted swim times. Slot yourself in where you think you’ll finish, but don’t get overly optimistic. Your time is taken from when you enter the water, not when the first swimmers starts. If you place yourself too far forward believing this will give you another five minutes to finish, you may end up being half drowned by faster swimmers swimming over the top of you. Not an ideal start to your Ironman race day.

Beach Start

These are very rare, and rarely seen outside of Lanzarote. This involves a 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 business as usual.

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, but please don’t so when close to other swimmers, as you can very easily injure them and end their race, only use breaststroke when away from the racing line. 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.

If you find yourself in a panic without a kayak close enough, you can simply roll onto your back. You will float in this position if wearing a wetsuit.

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 to the chest or being swum over. 

You will then swim to the next buoy, then the next, and so on until you reach the swim exit. Many Ironman races will use an “Australian exit” where you will exit the water, run about 50M, then get back in for your second lap, to help make the course more manageable from a safety perspective. Even if you are looking to qualify for a Kona slot, by the time you get towards the end of your fist lap the male pros (if racing) will probably be finishing their swim, and come through like a freight train. If you manage to catch a glimpse of them approaching, it’s best to swim slightly away from the racing line unless you want to risk a clout, as they’re not slowing down for anyone or anything, it’s their job to swim as fast as they can.

Swim Exit

Once you reach the swim exit, which should be marked by an inflatable arch, it’s time to to stand up. This can be tricky if the ground is rocky, slimy or deep mud underfoot, especially after 3800M. 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. You’ve got a long day ahead of you.

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. 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 by the time I get to my blue bag I have one less thing to worry about in the transition area itself.

T1

After walking through transition yesterday this should be a breeze. Grab your bag and find a space to get changed where you won’t feel panicked. The first thing to do is remove the rest of your wetsuit and place it on the ground next to you. Put your bike gear on, stuff your wetsuit, goggles and hat in the blue bag, then drop it off on your way to the bike. Grab your bike off the rack and head straight to the “bike out” banner.

Bike

All Ironman races are held on closed roads (save for a few crossing points), so you generally don’t have to worry about cars. You still have to worry about other competitors though which can be just as dangerous. Especially on multi lap courses where you run the risk of reaching the back markers or being lapped yourself. Keep to the left as much as you can, and always check over your shoulder when making a change in direction to ensure you’re not about to wipe someone out. If you are about to pass a slower athlete, take a wide line around them, especially when approaching a corner they may swing out to take the racing line around.

Ironman events all have a 12 meter drawing zone, which means it is illegal to ride less than 12 metres behind another rider, unless overtaking. If you are passed, it is your responsibility to allow the 12 metre gap to re-establish. Don’t draft because everyone else is doing it, as you risk a five minute penalty from a roaming marshal in the form of a blue card.

The bike will be the first time during your Ironman race day that many of you will feel comfortable. Don’t make the mistake of using this as a chance to drop the hammer as adrenaline flows, you still have a very long day ahead of you. Stick to a pace which you perceive being able to sustain between now and when you cross the finish line.

There will be hills on the course, whether gentle or steep, and pacing these will make a huge difference to your 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 recover from. 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.

Nutrition should be at the forefront of your mind on the bike, make sure you keep on top of your calorific intake. You may find it preferable to eat solids in the first half of the bike, then switch to liquids and gels in the second half. More information on race nutrition here

There will be several feed stations on course, and one area for you to access your special needs bag, often close to the transition area. For the feed stations volunteers will stand holding bottles and food out for you and calling out the contents such as “isotonic!” “gels!” or “water!” as you approach. They will be holding the nutrition between two fingers and out at a distance which means you should be able to catch them at speed. You can also ditch your empty bottles here by launching them into the designated littering zone.

Mechanical support is available on the bike, however they will not fix punctures, it is your responsibility to learn how to do this and practice in your own time. Mechanical support is reserved for more serious issues such as broken spokes, tyre blow outs or bent rear hangers. If you require assistance, inform a marshal and they’ll request support for you.

Above all, make sure you don’t let your ego get in the way on the bike. You could end up being passed by hundreds of athletes on the bike. But there’s every chance you’ll pass them on the run if they’ve gone too hard on the bike. More people regret going too hard on the bike than not going hard enough.

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 towards your rack where you’ll leave your bike before heading to the marquee.

Once inside the first port of call should be finding your bag and removing the contents, much as you did following the swim. You will then remove your cycling gear and switch into your running gear instead.

For many athletes T2 can be the lowest part of the race. You may have really struggled towards the end of the bike, and the prospect of running seems the least appealing thing currently. I recommend you take the time you need to get yourself into your kit without rushing, but don’t spend any longer sitting down that you absolutely have to as it will only make it harder to get going again.

You will either be placing your run bag back on the hook or placing it in a drop off point depending on the event, which you will then be able to collet the end of the event.

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.

The run at the end of such a long event is war of attrition. If you’re used to running your way through the field at the end of a shorter race, it’s important not to get carried away in the opening kilometres. Unless you are a very accomplished runner there’s a good chance you will have to run/walk your first Ironman marathon. This isn’t what you want, and it isn’t what I want either, but short walking breaks are preferable to walking the last 10KM, experiencing a race ending cramp or collapsing from exhaustion. This run/walk can be in the form of a regimented strategy such as run 10K, walk 1K, or it can simply be a case of walking the aid stations, which even professional athletes at the highest level will do sometimes.

There will usually be aid stations every mile with food, water and sometimes toilets. I recommend you take something from each aid station, even if it’s just a cup of water to pour over your head to cool yourself. Running past aid stations because you don’t need anything can set you up for a serious implosion later on.

As most Ironman marathons take place over four laps they need an easy way to see who has completed the requisite laps before finishing. This is tracked with marathon bands, which are coloured and sit on your wrist. You collect them towards the end of each lap, and once you have a full set allow you to enter the finishing chute. If you are flirting with the cutoffs, they will stop giving out the marathon bands for each lap when they consider anyone who is still at that point in the race would be unable to finish.

The Finish Line

This is it, what you’ve been training for, the finish chute experience. At Ironman races you are unable to take anybody down the chute with you, so while grabbing your child to run down the finishing chute with them would be a lovely gesture, it will result in a disqualification. They also have rules on outside assistance, so be careful what you take from the crowd. I don’t mean to be a killjoy, I just want you to end up being denied a medal on a technicality.

Once the MC has announced your new title as an Ironman you will be handed a medal. If you require any medical assistance you should inform one of the finish line marshals, otherwise don’t dramatically collapse over the line for dramatic effect to allow the medical crews can prioritise those who genuinely need help. A volunteer will remove your timing chip from your ankle From here you can make your way into the finishers area.

Here you will be presented with food, which can be anything from pizza to a full buffet depending on the event. There will also be masseurs, and this is where you can connect your finishers T-shirt. Some finishing areas will include your streetwear bags to take home, others will ask you to walk back to T2 to collect your clothes, where you’ll have to head anyway to pick up your gear and head home.

Whether you have completed your first Ironman 70.3 or your 20th Ironman you should be incredibly proud of what you have achieved. If you are in any doubt of your ability to drive home safely, it’s best you check into a nearby hotel, as you wouldn’t want a tired driver on the roads while you were out training on your bike.

Make sure you get plenty of photos of you with your medal and your bike to remember your accomplishment in years to come.

Inspired to sign up? Visit ironman.com to find the right event for you.

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 your triathlon race day can really put a spanner in the works. Maybe 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 stressful world of race preparation. This will 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, Make sure you always read the pre race information on the organiser’s website. 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 triathlon race days are Sundays, by packing your kit on the Friday is a good idea. Not only to make it a less stressful experience, you make it more likely you’ll remember something you forgot to pack. This also gives 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 for your event.

The Day Before

Unless you race is very local, I recommend travelling up the night before. A traffic jam, cancelled train, or dead battery could be the end of your triathlon race day before it’s even begun.

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. There are a lot of things that can go wrong during your triathlon race day. Give yourself as much time to deal with these as you can.

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. Races don’t normally have a dedicated changing area, and I doubt you want to get changed in a portaloo.

Leave your accommodation with plenty of time to make it to the start. It’s 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 on once. 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. This way 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. I don’t think I’ve ever had a triathlon race day without a nervous wee. 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 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 your triathlon 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 bring used on your triathlon race day.

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. Don’t place yourself in the middle or front of the group, this will only result in you getting pushed underwater by other swimmers. 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 is normally 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. You will line up on the edge of a pontoon ready to dive in. Athletes will be told to take their marks, before a horn sounds signifying the start. 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, and it will be the most intimidating part of your triathlon race day. 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

When you reach the swim exit, normally indicated by an inflatable arch, it’s time 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 can, 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.

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 on a triathlon race day, 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. Getting it wrong can be incredibly painful (especially for the gents) and 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 approach the mount line. This 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 as you’ll block the course.

Bike

There are two main kinds of bike course, closed road and open road. Most organisers can’t close a road for the sake of a triathlon race day, so you will 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 has their own 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. Don’t get sucked into drafting 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 during your triathlon race day that many of you will feel comfortable. Don’t make the mistake of pushing hard on fresh legs. You may feel you’re a third of the way through after finishing the swim, but the reality is that you probably still have at least 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. 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, 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 end up 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. Those who push too hard will lose time on the other end.

If your race is going to take you over the 90 minute mark, you’ll want something to eat on the bike. This is 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. They are 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 could be a collection of cones. At larger events it will be a big showpiece which funnels you into a finishing area with an announcer.

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 being charged 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. Here you will collect your bike and make your way home with a medal round your chest and heart full of pride. Congratulations for getting fit enough, and handling the pressures of a triathlon race day to achieve your goal. You may have noticed we used the phrase triathlon race day rather than triathlon. That’s because we believe triathlon is a lifestyle, not a single day. We hope you’ll continue to swim, bike and run in some capacity.

If this has inspired you to have a go at a triathlon, check out findarace.com where you can find listings for most triathlons in the UK.