Triathlon, as you probably already know, is three sports in one – it’s swimming immediately followed by cycling and then some running. And it’s typically accompanied by a wobbly-legged walk from the finish line to the nearest quiet corner where you can collapse in exhaustion and admire your finisher’s medal.
On their own, each of the disciplines is a challenge but when combined it’s almost as if they’ve been designed to disrupt your body’s ability to function normally. You go from working your arms and swallowing water in a prone position, to using your legs and crouching over the bars while trying staying to stay upright.
Dizziness, disorientation and vomiting are all par for the course and that’s before you’ve even made it to the run, which is where gastric distress tends to make itself known if you’ve overdone it on the energy drinks.
In short, it’s a sport full of surprises. And, if you’re planning on having a crack at it, the only way to do well is to remove – or at least reduce – the element of surprise, which is exactly what the following tips are intended to do:
Rule number one is get to the race venue early. Doing so will not only give you time to rack your kit in the transition zone but also – and more importantly – work out and learn your route through it.
You need to know how to get in and out of transition as quickly and smoothly as possible. It sounds easy but factor in a lungful of water and blood being pumped everywhere but your brain and you’d be surprised how many people forget where their bike’s parked.
Unless you’re lucky enough to be doing your first triathlon in the Bahamas, chances are you’ll have to wear a wetsuit for the swim. With all the extra buoyancy provided by the rubber, swimming in a wetsuit is a very different experience to paddling around in a pair of trunks.
Get used to what a triathlon wetsuit feels like and how it affects your stroke by trying one out before your race, which you can do at the 220 Triathlon Show (www.220triathlonshow.co.uk) at Sandown Park Racecourse from 27 February to 1 March.
Avoid any stumbles due to wobbly sea legs by kicking harder for the last few metres of the swim to get more blood flowing to your lower limbs. Once you’ve found your bike, head for the bike course by the quickest, simplest route.
It’s easier to run with the bike on your right, as the gears and chain will be on the far side so there’ll be fewer things to get yourself tangled up in.
And remember: when it comes to mounting your bike, take your time and do it properly. It’s better to stop, swing your leg over and pedal away anonymously than it is to end up on YouTube after a failed attempt at a running mount (see: www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJx-f_uuRrw)
Everyone’s heard the expression ‘as easy as riding a bike’. The only trouble is that although riding a bike is indeed easy, in triathlon it’s complicated by the addition of aerobars.
Aerobars – the armrests that extend forward over the front of the bike to make the rider more aerodynamic – provide a huge benefit. If you’re planning on winning, they’re essential but if you just want to make it to the finish you can do without them.
If you do decide to use them, however, for God’s sake, practice riding on them because while they make going faster much easier, they also change the way your bike handles (and put the brakes out of easy reach).
And don’t forget: no drafting. This isn’t the Tour de France. You can have a go at riding bikes fitted with aerobars on the test track at the 220 Triathlon Show (www.220triathlonshow.co.uk) at Sandown Park Racecourse from 27 February to 1 March.
The run in triathlon comes last so by the time you get to it, you’re going to be tired. The best way to prepare for a triathlon run leg is to get used to running after riding.
It’s very different to running on fresh legs especially as, for the first few metres at least, your legs will feel like they’re still trying to pedal a bike. ‘Brick’ sessions at the gym are what you need to learn how to deal with this.
Quite why they’re called brick sessions, no one knows but the important thing to remember is that they involve you repeatedly swapping between running and cycling for short periods.
The gym’s a great place to do this as you can spend a few minutes on the treadmill before hopping onto an exercise bike.
Keep up a decent but manageable pace on each machine and spend approx. 30-50% longer on the bike to give your legs a chance to really get into the pedalling action before you try running on them.
Food & Drink
Depending on what distance triathlon you do, you could be racing for anything up to 16 hours. So you’re going to need to refuel along the way. A formidably wide range of advanced nutrition products have been developed for that purpose but you can just as easily make do with bananas, flapjacks and Jelly Babies if the ‘space-age’ powders and gels don’t appeal.
Whether you decide to go down the ‘whole foods’ or ‘lab- developed nutrition’ route doesn’t really matter. What does matter is knowing that your chosen food works for you, which is why you should try your intended race menu out in training so you know you can stomach it during exercise.
There’s no denying it – triathlon requires a lot of equipment. And a lot of it is expensive. But there’s no need to break the bank for your first outing. Chances are you’ve already got some running shoes, and a t-shirt and shorts will suffice if you’re reluctant to rock a Lycra onesie.
Yes, you’ll need a wetsuit and a bike but if you haven’t got those you can hire them, so you don’t have to invest fortune before you’ve decided whether or not you actually enjoy triathlon.