Tri Roc advices
From tips and tricks to gear and training sessions…everything you need to know for your 1st off-road triathlon
Running 5 to 10 kilometres at the end of a triathlon will of course be harder than running the same distance when your legs are fresh.
But with time and training, running after swimming and cycling won’t seem so mission impossible any more.
Here is some advice to help your body get through an off-road triathlon…
- WORK ON THE SWITCHES
Try putting your running shoes on after a bike training session even if you only run for a few minutes.
Ideally, you should do this once a week. It will help get your legs used to running when they’re not very fresh.
Start off gently and aim to speed up near the end when you’ve got your legs back.
- DO QUALITY RATHER THAN QUANTITY WORK
Work life and family life = not enough hours in the day?
All the more reason to optimise your training time. Working on three sports at the same time brings into play the principle known as complementary cross-training.
Socks or no socks?
Many triathletes run without socks to save time at the transitions.
Some use talc to stop rubbing.
If you decide to go bare-footed in your shoes, you need to be sure that you won’t be limping halfway round the course due to blisters or chafing.
Taking the time to slip on a pair of socks for your 1st triathlon experience isn’t really a waste of time and your feet will thank you for it!
RIDING …YES, BUT HOW?
Cycling is a sport that runners tend to like because it gives both your heart and legs a work-out.
How to make your bike your ally, and how a well-managed training session can make all the difference.
- Make sure you’re fit
You’ll go faster on a top-of-the-range, all-carbon bike, but you can easily take part in a triathlon with any bike, even a mountain bike or a hybrid.
The most important thing is to have a bike that’s the right size for you and that’s well-adjusted.
A bike that’s too big for you will hurt your back, neck, knees and cost you time.
Why not get a posture check done, or ask a specialist to have a look and make sure you are correctly positioned on the bike?
- Keep your cadence high
Runners tend to want to pedal in the big ring, because they think it’s more efficient.
That’s a mistake, because it tires the legs out too much if you are not an experienced cyclist.
On the flat, your cadence should be around 90 revolutions a minute.
To know what your cadence is, when you’re out cycling, occasionally count the number of revolutions you do in 30 seconds and multiply the result by two.
- A spot of mechanics
You absolutely must know how to change a tyre before you set off.
Ask a friend or a local bike shop to show you how, then practise as many times as you need until you can do it without problem.
- Check out the route
Ideally, you should train on the route where the race will take place.
If the course is hilly, get used to climbing hills. If it is flat and windy, look for long straight roads that are exposed to the wind.
A well-adjusted bike means more power!
When your legs are extended, your knee should always be slightly bent, but never completely straight.
When the pedal is at 2 o’clock, lower your heel and push down on the middle and front of the foot.
When the pedal is at 7 o’clock pull your heel up.
Your elbows should be slightly bent when your hands are on brake hoods.
HOW TO SWIM?
Swimming is definitely the most intimidating discipline when you’re starting out with triathlons.
Swimming in triathlons is mostly centred on using the arms because, with wetsuits, the legs are more supported than usual. Also, it is a good idea to conserve leg energy for the rest of the triathlon because cycling and running rely almost entirely on the legs.
So don’t bother trying to swim like you do in a pool without a wetsuit. And that’s why it’s also useful to train with a leg float and hand paddles.
- Don’t just go out and do length after length
Many runners think that by swimming a lot they’ll become better swimmers.
But swimming is more about technique. If you haven’t got the technique right you’ll just tire yourself out rather than progress, and you won’t achieve the performance you want relative to the energy you’ve expended.
- Learn to swim the crawl first
Take lessons if need be. It’s the best way to help you feel at ease in the water.
A coach or swimming instructor standing on the side of the pool will see things that you can’t.
- Swim the race distance
Even if swimming isn’t your strength, it’s a good idea to arrive on race day knowing that you are capable of swimming the distance. You’ll feel more confident.
- Try swimming in open-water conditions
Try at least once to swim somewhere other than your usual swimming lane.
It’s important to make sure that you won’t be completely disorientated on race day.
Make sure beforehand that you can breathe on both sides in case a swell takes you by surprise.
Watch out for currents and don’t go off on your own or, if you do, make sure you always swim along the shoreline.
TECHNIQUE or when the right movements make all the difference!
A good crawl is more gliding, better performance and less energy expended!
While the upper body rolls to one side, the hips roll to the other. You’ll glide better on the water.
Put your head right into the water and look at the bottom of the pool.
A quick stock-take to see what you need to buy (or borrow) before registering for a competition. You can very probably complete a triathlon with the kit you already have. Keep it simple the 1st time and start using more specialised equipment as you progress. However, here are the 8 main things that you’ll need.
You do need a specific swimming wetsuit rather than a diving or windsurfing wetsuit because you need to be able to move your arms. You could get away with a surfing wetsuit.
Almost any pair of swimming goggles will do. Just avoid the small versions of Swedish goggles (no foam or rubber) worn by many competitive swimmers if you don’t want a black eye because, in a triathlon, you won’t be on your own in a single lane and you’ll often have to jostle other swimmers, at least in the first few metres.
Ok, they’re an accessory that can seem a bit flashy, but they do protect you from the sun’s rays and insects, especially during the cycling. The sunglasses you use for skiing or on the beach will do, but make sure they don’t fall down your nose or slip when you get sweaty.
Bring the mountain bike that you’ve already got at home. Remember to get it serviced at a good bike shop to avoid any nasty surprises on the day (problems with the derailleur, brakes, chain or tyres, etc.).
A helmet is essential! Without it, you won’t be allowed to start for obvious safety reasons! Any bike helmet will do, as long as it is approved, the right size for you and well-adjusted.
BIKE: If this is really the first time you’ve done a triathlon, cycle with your running shoes (cf. following paragraph) and toe clips. Of course, they won’t be as efficient as shoes clipped on to the pedals but initially, they’ll be more than good enough.
RUNNING: Use your usual shoes as long as you are comfortable in them, as that’s what really matters. However, to avoid all possibility of injuring yourself, make sure you’re not running in shoes that are worn out. You don’t necessarily need to go for extra light models but don’t run either with a great heavy pair that won’t guarantee better cushioning than intermediate shoes.
Snug, flexible and breathable clothes are the most suitable for a triathlon. A swimming costume and vest would do (with the addition of a sports bra for women). You can get tri-functional clothes from specialist triathlon and running apparel manufacturers that you can use for the entire triathlon. This kind of attire is fast drying and doesn’t have uncomfortable stitching that cuts into you, amongst other things.
Tips and tricks
Preparation for a triathlon requires a lot more of you than just lacing your shoes and going to the toilet.
Try to arrive about an hour and a half before the start of the race so you’ve got time to get your stuff sorted in the transition area, have your arms and legs marked with a black marker pen, pump up your tyres again if necessary and prepare your gear for the 2 transitions: swimming-bike and bike-running.
Go and check out the route because when you come out of the water, you’re likely to be a bit disorientated. Find out what direction you’ll arrive at the bike park and what direction you’ll leave. And before you start, warm up: Start with 15 to 20 minutes on the bike, then come back to the bike park to stow your stuff. You could then do a few minutes’ running up and down the road. Finally, put your wetsuit on and get in the water and swim a few dozen metres.
The problem with triathlons – or perhaps the fun bit, depending on how you see it – is that everyone sets off at the same time.
To avoid taking a nasty knock, don’t try and be clever: let the madmen go off first and stay with the beginners or the slower competitors on the edges or in the middle so you can follow the flow of the other triathletes.
To get your bearings, try to look far ahead of you without lifting your head up too much while you carry on swimming the crawl, or stay in the wake of others because as long as there’s foam it’s a good sign!
It’s when you can’t see anything that you need to start worrying and lift your head!
Slip in behind someone who’s swimming at a speed you can follow by slipstreaming them.
You’ll conserve energy that will be useful later.
Don’t keep lifting your head to see where your swimmer is, follow the bubbles from his or her legs kicking.
As you come out of the water, unzip your wetsuit (if you have swum with one) and pull it down to your waist, but no lower because you won’t be able to run to the bike park.
Take it off in the transition area, where your feet will be in a drier environment, and then leave it in your allotted space.
Once you’re in the transition area, go to your space and take your wetsuit, goggles and swimming cap off. Put on your helmet, taking care to fasten the chinstrap properly, then take your bike.
No. 1 Rule: put your helmet on before you touch your bike to avoid being given a penalty by an official.
Make sure you have taped some food and drink to your bike, then run to the bike park exit, pushing your bike.
Even if you feel good, don’t rush.
You’ll have time to prove how talented you are on the rest of the circuit. “Keep some gas in the tank” as the expression goes!
It will leave your legs that bit fresher for the run.
Many triathletes, even the best ones, still make the mistake of pedalling off too fast and then end up walking at the finish because they have put too much effort into the bike segment.
To give you an idea, on a scale of 1 to 10, the effort you expend on the bike should be around 7.
The route sometimes includes single tracks, so it’s not always easy to overtake.
But the “off-road spirit” means that no one gets annoyed and as soon as the track permits, the weaker cyclists let past the stronger ones, who will have remained patient and kept smiling during the wait.
If your legs feel a bit stiff, stand up and pedal to stretch your calf muscles and hamstrings.
After the bike segment, dismount your bike and walk or run into the transition area.
Attach your bike in the place where your stuff is and remove your helmet (in that order, if not “official not happy, give you penalty”!), then put on your running shoes.
Don’t let euphoria take over and dash off like a madman!
Concentrate on your arm position, relaxing your upper body and your breath in the first few kilometres.
Up to now your legs have been going round in a circle and they don’t want to start running, that’s completely normal!
Your arms will encourage your body to adopt a different rhythm.
Don’t be surprised if at this point in the race, the distance you have left to cover seems twice as long…that’s normal!