IRONMAN and IRONMAN 70.3 Race Day Success

Note: This article is aimed at athletes who are entering official IRONMAN (M-dot) events, 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 race day can really put a spanner in the works and leave you disappointed 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, to 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

While for some events you can put your bike in the back of the car, drive to the event, pay the entry fee and race, an Ironman event is one you need to put a lot of thought into, and will have likely signed up to many months in advance. You need a long term plan for race day, 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 race 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 the race 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

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, which 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, and is 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. I recommend you apply these sooner rather than later as failure to do so could mean a disqualification or your equipment going missing.

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

If you have the time it’s good to get these jobs done two days before (where possible), but many athletes will have only arrived later in the day to register and will want to head straight from registration to get something to eat, then check into their hotel. 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 (for European races at least, other regions do not require a number on the bike) attached to a race belt. The vast majority of athletes will put on socks here as well, and those not attempting a flying mount will have their shoes in this bag as well. If you are looking to add a cycling gilet for warmth, a cycle jersey for storage or any other extra clothing, they will need to be in this bag as well.

Run Bag

Here you mat simply have your shoes, but may will pack a fresh, thicker pair of socks to change into for the run. 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. Depending on the race, they may be found in the finishing area or in transition. Pay attention to the forecast at the time you hope to finish and pack accordingly.

Special Needs Bags

This can be whatever you like, and if it’s your first event I suggest you put in some ‘fun’ nutrition you may need to pick you up at the end such as 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

Now your bags are ready and your bike has been test ridden, it’s time to setup your transition area. If you are attending a 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. In smaller triathlons you may be used to placing your bike in the most advantageous position, but 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, which 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. 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.

Race Morning

The race 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 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. With regards to tyre pressure, it’s best you stick with what you know, 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.

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 you may end up being half drowned by faster swimmers swimming over the top of you.

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. 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 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, you will need 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, but you do have to worry about other competitors 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 in the race that many of you will feel comfortable, but don’t make the mistake of using this as a chance to drop the hammer 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 may be 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 more than anything, so 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 the 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 done via 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.

Triathlon Race Day Success

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

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

Two Days Before

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

Here’s a recommended packing list:

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

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

The Day Before

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

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

Race Morning

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

Before Leaving

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

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

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

Registration

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

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

Contents may vary from race to race

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

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

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

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

Setting up Transition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Preparations

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

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

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

The Swim

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

Deep Water Start

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

Self Seeded Rolling Start

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

Beach Start

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

Pontoon Start

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

In the Water

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

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

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

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

Swim Exit

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

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

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

T1

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

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

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

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

Bike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T2

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

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

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

Run

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

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

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

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

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

The Finish Line

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

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

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

Gift Ideas for Triathletes

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

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

Items to avoid

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

Replica Cycling Jerseys

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

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

Shoes

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

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

Helmets

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

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

Cycling Safety Products

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

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

Bikes

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

Wetsuits

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

Cycling Themed Oddities

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

Stocking Fillers

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

Socks

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

Cycling Cap

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

Cycling Lubricant

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

Bike Cleaner and Degreaser

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

Inner tubes

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

Black Witch

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

Cheaper Presents

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

Multi Tool

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

Goggles

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

Triathlon Books

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

Stock Training Plan

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

Torque Wrench

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

Pool Toys

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

Running Shorts

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

Swimming Costume

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

Mid Range Gifts

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

Stryd Footpod

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

Phazon Triathlon Consultation

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

Running Vest

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

Waterproof Jacket

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

Bike Lights

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

Coached Session

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

Premium Gifts

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

Sports Watch

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

Turbo Trainer

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

Race Wheels

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

Custom Training Plan

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

Bike Fit

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

Conclusion

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

How to Fall Back in Love With Triathlon

As with everything in life, what once raised our pulse and dominated our every thought becomes slowly mundane. When we started out in triathlon we were all smitten with the bike tech, wetsuits, different events and all the toys we never knew we needed. We completed our first race, got faster quickly, raced progressively longer distances, until a day came when we no longer jumped out of bed to train every morning. How can we fall back in love with triathlon?

It could be that your performance hit a plateau, you picked up an injury, or you achieved everything you wanted to. For whatever reason you’ve lost your mojo and triathlon no longer gives you goosebumps. While you can never recapture the thrill of the first year or two in the sport, there are steps you can take to remember why you started, and hopefully get back to enjoying training. These tips are very generalised, and depend on why you’ve found yourself out of love with the sport, but should hopefully help you get back into the swing of things.

Find New Training Routes

A cyclist silhouetted against a sunset

To start with, exploring the roads in your local area by bike was a real buzz. Whether putting in a big training ride or simply saving money on petrol/public transport, it was a new way to see the world. Fast forward five years and you know every pothole, every corner and every gradient change within 10 miles of your front door. The list of places to explore is dwindling and with it the satisfaction of achieving something new.

To start with, look into some route planning software such as Komoot, Strava or Ride with GPS. These can help you both find new routes uploaded by others, or help you create a new route based on a destination such as a cafe or a piece of coastline. Be careful here though, as some software will try to take you down overgrown bike paths, through muddy forests or a really convoluted, slow route using cycle lanes, so it’s worth checking the route before you blindly set off.

Focus on a Single Sport

If you’ve always been a pure triathlete, you’ve probably missed out on a lot of events. It may be worth looking into cross country running, time trialling or long distance swimming. These events are usually much cheaper than entering a triathlon, and you can train for them alongside the other two disciplines. They may push you out of your comfort zone, but this is a good thing, as being outside your comfort zone was probably one of the things that appealed to you about triathlon in the first place! You may not even need any new equipment, just a sense of adventure.

Mix up Your Multisport

The start of The London Duathlon
Athletes begin the first 10KM run at The London Duathlon

Triathlon is great, but so is duathlon, aquathlon, aquabike, swimrun, quadrathlon, off road triathlon and other variations that I’ve no doubt forgotten or have yet to be invented. If you are struggling with a running injury? Have a go at aquabike. Always way behind in the swim? Spend your off season racing duathlon to see how you perform there. Triathlon may still be your ultimate goal, but this is a good way to shake things up a bit. Falling in love with other multisports for the first time will probably help you fall in love with triathlon again.

Just Sign up for a Race

This is a high risk, high reward strategy. You need to put money on the table here, but there’s nothing quite like a race on the calendar to focus the mind and get you out the door, which can be the hardest part of some workouts. Make sure it’s something which is challenging enough to feel you have to train for it, but it’s also achievable within the time you have to train for it. Signing up for an Ironman with three months to go and minimal fitness probably isn’t going to end well.

Treat Yourself to Some New Kit

A cycling jersey and pair of bib shorts

Let me make this clear, I am NOT suggesting you go out and drop four figures on a new bike to help motivate you. The chances are this motivation will be short lived, and very expensive if it doesn’t work out. Instead, think about buying yourself some new sunglasses, replacing your worn out bib shorts, or getting some new goggles you can actually see out of, things like that. This is unlikely to have a huge effect on its own, but should help make your return to training feel that bit more exciting, and different to last time.

Try a Structured Training Plan

A screenshot from a training plan
The week from one of our Ironman training plans

Many clients I have coached have commented on how I have helped them fall back in love with triathlon by delivering flexible, detailed plans. The sense of specificity and the accountability of a coach who will ask questions if the training isn’t done and the knowledge that they’re working towards something special help motivate them. If you burned out in the past, failed to finish your big race or trained randomly with mixed results, structured training can help refocus the mind and get results. If you’re not looking for a coaching relationship, a training plan is an affordable way to bring structure to your training.

Step Away from Structured Training

10 cyclists cheering at the end of a group ride
A social bike ride is a great way to reconnect with cycling

If you have spent the last four years moving from coach to coach, or training plan to training plan, and you’re just feeling drained, taking some time away from a structured regime may be what you need. This could be for an entire season of self discovery or just for a few weeks, but it can really help you recharge mentally. Once you are back into the swing of training 5-6 days a week, you can if you wish look at returning to a more structured plan.

Join a Club

If you are used to training solo, which definitely has its advantages, it can be a lonely existence. While training in a group may be less effective at getting you race ready for a non drafting event than a solo ride on your race bike, it’s better than no ride, and can bring joy in its own way. Whether it’s the mid ride banter or getting to know other members at a cafe stop, it can be a reminder of why we started riding our bikes in the first place. After the isolation of Covid-19 lockdowns, this is a good way to re-engage with the human side of the sport.

Squad swim training sessions can be a good way for someone to have a look at your technique, while running sessions at a track add a competitive aspect to your intervals. Even if you only join in with the group workouts for the off season and early base period, it can help you build the momentum you need to get back on the triathlon wagon.

Sign up for an Event That Scares You

Athletes jumping into the water from a boat at the start of the Norseman Xtri
The Norseman is one of the toughest races on the planet. Image credit Norseman

You’ve already achieved more than you thought possible, but what else could you achieve? Perhaps you could step up to a half or a full Ironman, or if you’ve already done that, perhaps an extreme triathlon, an off road triathlon, or just a tough Ironman course like Nice. If you’re genuinely unsure whether you’ll be able to complete a race or not, this can put the fear into people and encourage them to train with the same urgency as when they signed up for events earlier in their triathlon career, and saw the experience as a huge step into the unknown.

Aim to Qualify for a World Championship Event

A collection of athletes with national flags on Port Elizabeth Beach
Athletes flying their national colours

This may not be in the reach of everyone within the next 12 months, but aiming to qualify to represent your country at a world championship event, or qualifying for the Ironman/70.3 championships as an individual is an admirable goal you can apply yourself to. While the qualification itself is never guaranteed and depends on who else turns up on the day, it’s a good way to really apply yourself and aim to perform to the best of your ability, rather than simply ‘good enough to get round’. To qualify you will normally need to be one of the top 3 in your age group to finish.

Choosing the right target race is also very important to maximise your chances of success. If you target a big early season race such as Ironman 70.3 Marbella you’ll struggle to make an impression, where if you find a less popular race in late summer your chances of success are much greater. Aquathlon and duathlon are also less competitive, and a good way to snag your first spot on the age group team.

Even if you don’t manage to achieve your goal of qualifying, you’ll probably be in the shape of your life and be able to place very well at some more local races as a result.

Attend Races as a Spectator/Support Crew

I encourage all athletes to attend at least one triathlon they’re not racing at. This may be a local race you’re not targeting, or supporting someone at a bigger race, but watching from the sidelines really helps give you some perspective. Not only can you learn from other athletes by watching what they do well (or not so well), chances are it will give you the itch to compete yourself. When I attended the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in South Africa in the early days of my coaching career, it really helped me fall back in love with triathlon. Not only was there the fact I got to travel out to South Africa, but the buzz of the event, watching athletes prepare, spectating the pro race, attending the expo, it inspired me so much I signed up for a 70.3 myself the next weekend.

Follow Professional Triathletes

Professional triathletes are some of the fittest athletes in the world. In this age of social media we can gain an unparalleled insight into their lives and their training regimes, as well as their lifestyle. Instagram is an especially well used platform by the pros, where you can find plenty of genuinely inspirational photos, videos and advice to help get you down the pool or out on a run. Watching professional athletes race is an acquired taste, especially over the Ironman distance, but is a fantastic way to see just what the pinnacle of the sport looks like, and what the human body can achieve. It may even help you identify the location of your next event!

Consume Triathlon Media

The cover of 220 triathlon magazine
220 Triathlon is one of the most popular triathlon magazines

You can find triathlon themed documentaries, magazines, podcasts, books, videos and more to help teach you about the sport and engage with it more fully. This can be time consuming, and you’ll never finish them all, but it can give you ideas for new training sessions, new target races or simply entertain and inspire you. You need to take it all with a pinch of salt (everyone can’t be right), but broadening your horizons and finding new ways to enjoy the sport goes a long way to getting you out the door.

Sort out That Injury

You know the one, that niggle in your knee which stops you running fast, or that tightness in your hip which makes cycling progressively more uncomfortable after you hit the three hour mark. Not only do these injuries affect our ability to train the way we’d like to, they also present us with a big psychological roadblock. You may tell yourself “If I can’t run pain free, why bother with the cycling and swimming?” Suck it up and spend some money on a physio who can help you identify the cause of the injury, then do the exercises required to address the cause of the issue. Having a glass ceiling placed there by an injury which doesn’t allow you to train to the best of your potential causes the best of us to fall out of love with the sport. If you’re based in London, we recommend https://physioonthegreen.com

Recover Better

Are you struggling to fit training in because you feel so run down all the time? Are you working hard but not seeing results? There’s a good chance your issues stem from poor recovery. Most triathletes should aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night, with many pros getting closer to 9 with a nap in the afternoon. The best way to achieve this is to simply get to bed earlier, forgoing that last episode of The Next Generation or that glass of wine and heading straight to bed instead. Getting to bed by 10:30PM and up at 6AM to train should be achievable for most, and nets you a decent 7.5 hours of shut eye. Sleep is the only time the body can truly adapt to exercise, and no amount of caffeine will offset the damage done by consistently failing to get enough sleep.

Ensuring you refuel after workouts by eating sufficient amounts of carbohydrate and protein as well as allowing sufficient time between hard sessions are key to allowing your body and mind enough time to recover well. Without sufficient recovery you won’t really get any fitter, just dig yourself a hole which will take months to recover from.

Start Coaching

A coach addressing a group of swimmers in front of an open water venue
Introducing a group of new swimmers to the open water at London Royal Docks

I’m not suggesting a career change here, but coaching people, formally or informally, is a great way to reconnect with the sport. Whether you’re a qualified coach on poolside with a whistle or simply teaching a club mate how to fix a puncture, sharing your knowledge/expertise with newcomers not only helps them out, but gives you a sense of satisfaction that you’re helping the next generation of athletes.

Take a Break From the Sport

Have you been in a constant state of training for several years? Does the sight of your bike fill you with a low level feeling of dread? Do you check what today’s workout is while cowering behind the sofa? Is there a picture of your coach’s face on a dartboard somewhere in your house? The chances are the most productive thing you could do to help you fall back in love with triathlon, is take a break from triathlon. Distance makes the heart grow fonder as they say, and taking a step back from training may help you realise how important it is to you. I recommend athletes take at least one full week away from training at the end of a season, and normally a few more weeks away from proper structured training. Neglecting this can result in burnout and a loss of interest in the sport.

What if None of This Works?

I’ve listed some of the techniques which work for myself and those I’ve coached, but we’re all individuals at the end of the day. Ask yourself why you got into the sport in the first place, and how you can reignite that. If you started the sport for a sense of adventure, think about how you could make your training more dynamic. If you enjoyed using it to push your limits, find a race which will push you further than any event before. Perhaps you started the sport for its social reasons, but moved towards solo training over time, it might be worth reconnecting with other athletes, even if just for your easy workouts.

Sometimes though, no matter how hard you work at it, how much time you invest or money you throw at the problem, you won’t be able to get back in the groove of training. It may be that your priorities lie elsewhere now, you have too many responsibilities in more pressing areas of your life or recent events in your life have rearranged your priorities. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy exercising occasionally or that you can’t return to the sport properly at a later date, but sometimes it’s better to accept that you need to park your triathlon hobby for now and wait for the right time to restart. After all, not training every week for the rest of your life doesn’t make you a failure.

Conclusion

An athlete holding the Union Jack wearing a medal

Falling back in love with triathlon is unlikely to be a life changing experience like when you first discovered the sport. It will be more like putting back on a favourite pair of slippers, or rediscovering one of your favourite hangouts as a child. It will motivate you to get outside and make the right choices for your mental/physical health, and help fortify your identity as a triathlete. Even professional athletes lose motivation sometimes, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

I hope this has helped you find your triathlon mojo again, if you have any tips that worked for you, leave them in the comments below to help others.

Covid-19 is still a problem in many countries, and will continue to be for many years to come. If you decide to travel outside of your local area for training or racing ensure you respect local restrictions at all times, regardless of your vaccination status, and research entry requirements for different countries if you plan to travel internationally. It is also worth researching the covid-19 refund policies different race organisers may or may not offer.

The London Duathlon Race Guide

Billed at the world’s biggest duathlon, The London Duathlon is an annual event in Richmond Park that sees athletes competing over the sprint, standard and ultra distances in Richmond Park, SouthWest London. For the purposes of this article I will be focusing primarily on the standard distance as this is the most popular distance by far. All information in this article is correct as of the time of writing, the course has remained unchanged since the first event (to my knowledge), but the intricacies of how the event is ran may change from year to year with very little notice. Always read all the pre race information to avoid being caught out.

An winter morning in Richmond Park, hopefully it’s warmer on race day!

Arriving at the Venue

Richmond Park is completely closed for the event, so despite the fact there are car parks at the venue, they will be inaccessible on the day itself. You will need to find parking on nearby roads if arriving by car which can be challenging. Your best bet would be to take the train to Richmond Station and ride to the park from there. Bikes are permitted on the national rail, overground and district line, all of which are served by Richmond Station. You will want to be arriving at the event village at least an hour before your start time to allow you to prepare in a calm, methodical way. Nobody wants to be faffing around with their bike with minutes until the start of their run.

Event Village

The London Duathlon event village can be found on the east side of the park, next to Roehampton Gate. It is accessible by a footbridge which you will need to carry your bike up and over. If you struggle with this, there are plenty of individuals present I’m sure will be happy to help. When you enter the event village, take the time to attach your race number to your top, your bike stickers to your bike and attach your wristband. This will be required to remove your bike from transition, so do not remove it until you leave the venue.

Setting up Transition

Your wristband is your ticket into transition, an athletes only area where you will find a number of racks for you to place your bike. The last time I did the event it was a free for all, if this is the case I recommend you place your bike close asp possible to the end of one of the racks, to make it easier to find. You can also place a coloured towel in front of your bike for improved visibility if this helps, but you’re unable to tie a balloon or similar to the rack as an identifier. The run will be the first discipline, so make sure you leave everything associated with the bike leg (sunglasses, nutrition, helmet e.t.c.) with your bike to access it later. Large bags are not permitted, but can be left in the bag drop area.

Once you have your bike left in an appropriate gear ready to go, it’s time to walk the transition area. Find the “run in” banner which indicates where you will enter the transition area following your first run. Walk the route you’ll take to your bike to commit it to memory. Then look for the “bike out” banner, which is where you’ll start the bike leg. Repeat the process for “bike in” and “run out”, there should only be one of each.

The start line

Runners Begin the 10KM Run. Image credit London Duathlon.

Get to the start line with at least 10 minutes before you’re due to start. You will be placed in a holding area, then called forwards into a small black marquee where a pre recorded race briefing will be played, followed by three beeps which signify the start of the race.

Run 1- 10KM

Map of the 10K run

You will start your run on a short grassy section heading towards Sawyers Hill. Yes the race start with a hill. The adrenaline will be pumping and you’ll be excited for the day ahead of you, but remember, you’ll unlikely to finish any faster than two hours, so don’t get carried away. This event is hard on your legs, and going hard on the first 2.5KM up a hill is a good way to kill your legs for the rest of the race.

Once you reach the top of the hill you’ll take a left onto a slightly undulating section, followed by a notable downhill which will allow you to pick up the your feet again after the long slog of Sawyers. This doesn’t last forever however as you then make a left to cut through the middle of the park on a flat section, passing some large ponds on your left. After the ponds, you’ll then make a left hand turn onto a short out and back section which is there to bring the distance up to a nice round 10KM. Here there has traditionally been a water station for you to replace water lost through sweat, which I recommend you take advantage of unless you are carrying your own water. From here you are treated to a final downhill section before you make a left at Robin Hood Gate roundabout and run the last 2KM to the transition area where you’ll begin the bike.

Bike- 44KM

Map of the standard distance event, the bike course is the purple section

As you exit transition you will merge onto the bike course. It’s VERY important you give way to other cyclists who may be travelling at speeds in excess of 30MPH, as you really don’t want to have to cause them to swerve, or even crash into you. Once on the course, it’s important you stay left at all times except when overtaking yourself, and always make a check over your shoulder before you make a change in direction, just like you would with a mirror in your car.

You are treated to a nice section of flat to help you find your cycling legs, before you make your way up the steepest hill on the course, Broomfield Hill. As you approach this, make sure you’re in your smallest ring at the front as you’ll need it, and change down gears slowly as the road kicks up to ensure you don’t find yourself pushing unnecessarily hard. You will run out of gears on this hill, as it kicks up to over 12% at its steepest point. The good news is you can see the top of the hill from the bottom which allows you to pace it appropriately, and remember you have to climb it four times, so riding up it as fast as you can to show off is unlikely to set you up for long term success. If you find the going really tough, you can always get off and push, but please don’t weave around to try and reduce the gradient. You can have up to five riders side by side on the steep sections of the hill, so don’t take up more space than you have to.

Once you summit the hill you pass a car park on your left, before a short downhill. Your lungs may be screaming at you, but it is worth pushing a bit here to get maximum speed on the downhill and carry it into the short uphill which follows. From here you follow a long flat section before you approach a right hander into some dense tree cover. Change into your big ring here if you haven’t already as you’re approaching a decent down Dark Hill, a steep, gently sweeping downhill towards the roundabout at Kingston Gate. Don’t leave your braking too late here as you run the risk of locking up your brakes and taking a one way trip into the hay bales at the bottom of the hill. If you are a nervous descender and like to ride the brakes on the way down, ensure you stay to the left as it’s a technical fast section of the course.

After making a right at the bottom you start another long, but gentle hill. To start with your barely notice it, until you reach a short, steep downhill followed by a short, steep uphill which I recommend you try to carry speed into. From here you will see runners on the 10K making a left down the middle of the park. This means you are now sharing the road with runners, so you only have 50% of the road to ride on. This makes it very tight, and you can find the road blocked by slower cyclists passing even slower cyclists, so keep an eye on your speed and be aware of the possibility somebody may swing out in front of you with very little notice. This uphill continues until you pass another car park on your left, which is followed by a short downhill to a roundabout at Richmond Gate where you’ll make a right.

After turning right, you’ll have a very short, gentle uphill until you descend the hill you ran up at the start, you may even see some of the runners suffering up it as you descend past them on your way down. The biggest issue here is that the runners are still taking up one side of the road, and this is a very fast downhill where some riders will hit 40MPH, maybe even more in a few cases, with very little margin for error. This is the most dangerous part of the course, so I recommend you treat it with respect and check twice over your shoulder that there isn’t another cyclist about to overtake you before moving right to pass a slower rider. The steepest section is at the top of the hill, it starts to slowly flatten as you approach a roundabout, before dropping down again taking you back towards the event village. Do a right at the roundabout at the bottom of the hill and you’re more or less back at the event village, now repeat this three more times!

Pacing is very important here, as it’s easy to get carried away, especially on the hills, and find yourself really suffering on the last lap, losing all the time you made up on the early laps. It may only be 44KM, but with 330M of vertical ascent and four 90 degree turns a lap, you may need to think of it as being closer to the equivalent of 50KM. I can push 4 watts per kilo at FTP, but every time I’ve done the race it’s taken me around 1:20 for the bike. That does’t take into account the bike, weather, aerodynamics or how I paced it, but it should give you a rough idea of the challenge that lies ahead of you, especially if you are relatively new to cycling. There has been no nutrition or water on the course when I have done the race, so make sure you take some with you to avoid running out of gas.

Run 2- 5KM

Once you finish your fourth lap you will be very happy to rack your bike and start your second run. The bad news is, your legs will likely feel like lead, and the run starts with a series of uphills. Firstly you will run up the first half of Sawyers Hill, make a left at the roundabout, then make your way up the Ballet School Hill, which is a relatively steep hill taking you up to the water station you visited on the first lap. It’s highly likely that you’ll develop a stitch or have to walk at this point if your fuelling strategy wasn’t spot on. This can be very disappointing, but focus on your own race, and acknowledge that it won’t cost you more than a minute or two.

Once you get to the top of the hill you can grab a drink from the water station and head back down Spankers hill towards Robin Hood Gate, which puts you within touching distance of the finish line. As you get closer the sound of the PA system and the buzz of the event village should push you on to dig that little bit deeper before you make a left hand turn to the finish. You will have finished The London Duathlon!

Post Race

By this point you should have a medal around your neck and a big smile on your face. There will be water and snacks which I recommend you partake in to refuel and repair your body following your effort. Once the adrenaline has worn off make sure you have something proper to eat that has high protein content, whether this is food you have bought from home or one of the vendors. Once you’re ready it’s time to collect your bike from transition and head home to tell your friends about your achievement and plan your next event.

Introduction to Running Power

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

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

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

RPE
A runner participating in a race

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

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

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

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

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

What is running power?

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

Training with Running Power

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

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

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

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

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

Indoor Running

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

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

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

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

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

Post Run Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running Power for Triathlon

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Elite athletes don’t use it

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

Technophobes

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

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

Just not appealing

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

It’s not a “mature technology”

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

Early versions were poor

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

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

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

Further Reading

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

Palladino Power Project

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

Run With Power by Jim Vance

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

Cover of "Run with Power" book

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

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

Cover of "The Secret of Running book"

Stryd Materials

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

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

The Difference Between Road Cycling and Triathlon Cycling

When I started triathlon in 2012 I felt confident I would be able to handle the cycling well as a I had cycling experience. However, this included riding a 12KM loop around the lakes near my parent’s house as fast as I could and not a lot else. When I discovered the world of road cycling I was drawn in. The clubs, brutal climbs, watching pro cycling, the cafe culture. It all felt like a world hidden in plain sight.

However, within these groups there were very few triathletes, and certainly no triathletes of a high calibre. It turns out, there’s a big difference between road cycling and triathlon cycling, especially when you start looking at middle and long distance triathlon. To illustrate this point, let’s look at the difference between the pinnacle of both sports

Image credit Yuzuru SUNADA

This is an image from the 2020 Tour de France. As you can see it includes over 100 cyclists inches away from each other on standard road bikes wearing standard helmets. They’re getting ready for a bunch sprint, where the first athlete across the line wins the stage and takes home the glory.

Image Credit Trevor Clark

This is an image from the Ironman World Championship where the world’s fastest Ironman athletes converge every year to take on the famous course. Riders here are keeping a minimum of 12 metres apart unless overtaking, tackling the course with specialised bikes optimised for aerodynamics, along with clothing and helmets optimised for speed while riding solo. Once they finish their 180KM they then have to run a marathon.

It doesn’t take a sports scientist to notice that these events are more different than a layman may give them credit for. Even if you are taking on a triathlon on your road bike, you still have to maintain the same distance between competitors, and still have to run at the end.

The vast majority of road cyclists aren’t really training. The definition of training is specifically structuring your riding for optimal performance at an event. Most road cyclists are just riding around, enjoying the cafe culture, trying to be the first to the top of the hill, and maybe entering the odd sportive. For them cycling is a way to socialise and see more the local area/world. This is absolutely fine, but as triathletes we have our eyes set firmly on race day, and we need to think about our riding very differently if we want to optimise our performance. Here are a few tips on how to keep your cycling triaining specific. We’ll be assuming for the purpose of this article you’re not racing a draft legal race.

Focus on Steady State

When you’re on a triathlon bike course nobody cares about your ability to sprint, throw yourself up a hill on fresh legs or drop other riders. A triathlon bike course is essentially a time trial followed by a run. Even the very fastest Ironman cyclists will be putting out pretty comfortable power outputs over an Ironman bike leg, knowing that it will start to hurt towards the end, and they still need to run a marathon at the end.

Triathlons either take place on closed roads or on roads carefully chosen to minimise the chance of you having to give way to traffic, and tend to be pretty flat. As a result, there won’t be much, or any chance for respite, except braking for corners or the dismount line. To allow for this, you need focus on a continuous, steady power output for the duration of the bike leg, so as not to accumulate too much fatigue. Especially when the road points upwards.

A highly effective workout for developing fatigue resistance in the base phase

There is absolutely a place for hard intervals to develop your FTP, but without applying your new FTP to longer rides which simulate race day, it’s mainly just a way to show off and inspires false confidence.

Get used to riding solo

I have no problems with athletes who occasionally join group rides on the weekend. It adds a nice motivational boost, especially in the winter with conditions not conclusive to long rides. The issue comes however when athletes become allergic to riding solo, and need someone to ride with them either from a motivational or anxiety perspective. While I don’t want to downplay people’s fears about riding on the road solo, if you ride carefully it’s no more dangerous than walking down the street and it’s something that needs to be addressed if you want to compete in triathlon where you can be on your own for long periods.

Riding solo allows you to focus on your own power outputs, get better at reading the road, and develop resilience to the boredom which can come with long, lonely miles, and results in a lack of focus if you’re not careful. By the time you get to within eight weeks of your race, at least every other ride should be done solo.

Become self sufficient

This is a continuation of the previous point, but in triathlon cycling you need to become self sufficient. You can’t cycle along praying that the puncture gods are on your side. You need to know that should the worst happen, you have the tools and know how to get yourself back on the road.

This also applies to carrying supplies, food and drink. You probably won’t be wearing a cycling jersey, so you can’t stuff your pockets with food and tools. You have to carry all the fluids, food, extra clothing and tools on your bike. There are aid stations providing you with water and selected sports nutrition, and big events will have roaming mechanics, but these can take over an hour to reach you, and won’t help with punctures or other minor mechanicals.

Image credit Tony Svensson 

Aerodynamics

When riding solo, your biggest enemy is aerodynamics. The benefit of group riding is that riders in front of you disrupt the air, where you can slipstream them, in the same manner Formula One Cars will. However, when you are riding on your own there is no windbreak, so you have to do what you can to reduce drag. The best way to achieve this is to narrow your profile as much as possible and use clothing/accessories which allow for the smoothest airflow possible around the rider and bike. The rider creates around 90% of drag, so the primary focus should be here rather than on wheels or handlebars.

The best way to improve this is with a pair of clip on aero bars which can be affixed to the majority of handlebars. This gives you a basic aero position, which will be worth minutes on most courses. This position is very different and intimidating for many, without access to the brakes, twitchy steering and the general feeling of feeling lower to the ground and an increased sensation of speed that comes with being lower down. It may also be uncomfortable to start with, decreasing the hip angle and recruiting more of the hamstrings than you’ll be used to. This is a definite learning curve and unsuitable for beginners, but worth sticking with as the gains will be significant.

Clothing

Choosing the right kit to wear is important whatever your sport, however what you wear during triathlon cycling is of paramount importance. Something like a flappy arm sleeve on a jersey could cost you several minutes over a 70.3 as it disrupts the airflow. Most racers will opt for a triathlon suit which is close fitting, quick drying, and with a thinner chamois pad than you’re used to. Sleeved suits are the choice of many as fabric is more aerodynamic than skin, as well as offering protection from the sun. Your helmet is also an important piece of equipment to get right, as it produces the most bang for your buck out of all aero upgrades.

Getting Intensity Right

Getting the intensity right during triathlon cycling is paramount. If you undercook the effort you give away a lot of time in what is easily the longest discipline. If you go too hard you lose a lot of time on the run. I see most athletes going too easy in shorter events and go too hard in longer events. you can find recommended intensity factors (percentage of FTP) in this article, under the intensity factor section: https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/an-introduction-to-trainingpeaks-metrics/

You can use a heart rate monitor if you don’t have a power meter, swapping the power zones for heart rate zones. While power and heart rate zones aren’t completely interchangeable, they’re good enough for me given the variability of heart rate in the first place.

The Importance of Power

If you are a road rider a power meter could be a point of curiosity or something you use to brag to others about your numbers. Unless you are really training with purpose using a turbo trainer, there are probably better places to invest your hard earned cash. As a triathlete however power meters become all but essential if you want to compete at a high level. They are the best way to measure your intensity (see above), and combined with your heart rate mean you stay in the sweet spot for your race.

You will hear interviews with some of the most successful pros out there who don’t use power meters in races or at all, claiming that “racing is flat out”. This is all well and good if you’ve been training and racing for twenty years and know exactly what your body is and isn’t capable of, but if you don’t know your body well, power becomes very important to manage your training and racing more precisely.

Eating on the go

Most road cyclists will acknowledge the importance of eating on the bike, but most of the time this is pretty simple. They’ll often take on the majority of their nutrition while stationary, either at a feed station during a sportive or in a cafe at the halfway point of a ride. Triathletes are afforded no such luxury, and must get used to eating on the move. This may sound simple, but conditioning your stomach to take on hundreds of calories while tucked up in an aero position takes practice. When you get hungry towards the end of a ride you can’t put off eating knowing that you’ll soon be sat in a cafe tucking into a cooked breakfast, you still have the run where it’s even harder to eat, so you need to keep the calories coming.

Riding in hot conditions

This is a sweeping statement, but most triathlons take place in warm conditions, as the combination of water temperature and air temperature must be high enough that athletes are unlikely to suffer with hypothermia. Even if things are a bit nippy first thing, even late season races will warm up nicely an hour or two into the bike. There are of course some notable exceptions, but these are events generally geared towards more experienced competitors.

This means that you need to prepare for racing in warmer temperatures, which in some climates can be very difficult to replicate. If you are training for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, it can be difficult to replicate the humidity and heat in a temperate climate. There are various ways you can acclimatise for the heat, but I won’t go into these here. The main takeaway point for the purposes of this article is that you don’t need to acclimatise to riding in the cold. If you’d like to ride outside through the winter then I’m not going to stop you, but you don’t need to invest in a full winter wardrobe and risk your neck on icy roads as a triathlete as you’ll never race in these conditions.

Conclusion

While the sports of triathlon cycling and road cycling are very similar, there are also a number of differences which you should pay attention to if you want to be competitive. You can complete any triathlon with a road cycling mindset, riding a standard road bike, stopping at feed stations, showing off on the hills, but those who overtake you at 40KPH looking very comfortable manage to do so because they have trained in a very specific way. Focus your training in the same way and you’ll take huge chunks off of your bike split.

To find out the best way to incorporate this into your training and the kind of sessions you can attempt to improve your triathlon cycling performance, check out our Coaching Consultation page.

Choosing a Road Cycling Cassette

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

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

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

Range of cassette

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

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

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

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

Size of biggest/smallest rings

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

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

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

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

Weight of cassette

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Technical info

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

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

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

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

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

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What Will the 2021 Triathlon Season Look Like?

Image copyright Ironman

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

Will races go ahead?

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

But we have vaccines right?

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

Will I need a vaccine to race?

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

What if I can’t get vaccinated?

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

What if I don’t want to get vaccinated?

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

Will there be any spaces?

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

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

Will there be social distancing measures in place?

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

How Much Faster Will A New Bike Make You?

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

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

Lighter

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

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

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

Aerodynamics

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

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

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

Improved Groupset

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

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

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

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

Stiffer frame

Cannondale SuperSix Evo, one of the stiffest frames out there

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

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

Riding the Latest Bike

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

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

Smoother riding, better braking, just feels nicer

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

A turbo trainer for structured training

A training plan/coach

Improving your diet

Keeping your bike well maintained

Better tyres

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

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