Thanks to Ben Larson @ Pedals Plus
BASICS FOR THE NEW TRIATHLETE
The primary components that determine your bike speed are aerobic fitness, power and position:
Aerobic fitness: This is obviously a crucial factor in cycling and given that the majority of time and distance of a triathlon is on the bike, your fitness levels are tested here. A correctly periodised training plan should slowly develop the aerobic fitness you need with long slow rides and by gradually building intervals at your intended race pace to periods close to your intended race distance.
Power: As well as aerobic fitness, power plays a major part on the bike especially if the course is windy or hilly. Many people from a running background, while possessing great aerobic fitness, lack the core strength to ride hard for longer periods. Including power specific workouts and introducing regular hill workouts to your program should build your power base sufficiently. Weights in the off-season are also an alternative for athletes who feel that they lack power. Developing good power on the bike can take 2-3 seasons.
Bike position: Good position on the bike cannot be stressed enough and is one of the biggest determining factors in bike speed, aerodynamics and also how you feel getting off the bike. Once set-up properly according to your biomechanical needs, you should be in the ideal position to transfer force to the pedals and not waste energy.
More on bike positionPrimary concerns when setting up your bike for triathlon are comfort, aerodynamics and power:
Comfort: First and foremost you must be comfortable on the bike. If you are dangerously unstable or in a position you cannot maintain for any period of time, you will not improve your riding.
Aerodynamics: Just remember that the least aerodynamic thing on the bike is you, no amount of aero frames, helmets or disk wheels will change that. The flatter and more streamlined you can become, the faster you will go.
Power: The compromise when aiming for the most aerodynamic position possible is that you must still be in an ideal position to transfer force to the pedals. Saddle height and hip angle are the determining factor.
The key aspects of cycling for the uninitiated are:
- Start by reviewing your position on the bike (seek help if necessary)
- Start with lower volumes
- Increase intervals and intensity gradually
- Where possible try and ride hills to improve power
The primary components that determine your swimming ability are technique, aerobic efficiency and muscular power/strength.
Of these requirements, technique is the most important; in fact, swimming is the one discipline of triathlon where technique is paramount. For those of us who were not taught to swim as children this can be a particularly frustrating reality.
The only way you will ever become a better swimmer is by swim training. If you are a poor swimmer and start to swim regularly, you'll improve. It is possible to become a better swimmer by simply swimming regularly and trying to copy the techniques of other good swimmers but you are likely to make progress much faster under the eye of a coach or a knowledgeable swimmer.
It is an unfortunate reality that what you feel like you are doing in the water is often very different to what you are actually doing and slight changes (the angle of your head for example) can have a dramatic effect on your style. It is for this reason that improving your swimming technique through reading books and studying videos is difficult. A good coach will work through any errors in your technique progressively.
Swimming with a coached squad is probably best way to improve both technique and ultimately speed. Due to the popularity of swimming in Australia it should be easy to find a swim squad suitable for you no matter where you live and regardless of whether you are a beginner or accomplished swimmer.
Initially, swim videos can supplement lessons and can help establish and explain the fundamentals of swimming. Videos can show how good swimmers swim, how drills make you a more efficient swimmer; and common mistakes to avoid.
Ultimately, whether you swim on your own or with a squad, the important thing is to build progressively, correcting poor technique and mastering new skills at each step. Concentrate on one aspect of your swimming at a time: body position, breathing, stroke, kick, etc.
As a triathlon swimmer it is also important to swim in open water prior to racing in it and to swim in your wetsuit if you are going to race wearing one. Basic navigation skills and competency in swells or rough conditions will also be an asset whilst racing and can make the difference between a good or bad swim.
The key aspects of swimming for the uninitiated are:
- Start by reviewing your swimming technique (seek help if necessary)
- Try and join a swimming squad
- Start with an emphasis on drills & technique sessions
- Where possible try and swim in openwater occasionally
Compared to the other disciplines of triathlon, running is a pretty simple concept. The primary component that determines your running speed is aerobic efficiency. Improve your aerobic efficiency and your running speed will increase.
The great thing about running is that there are no complex techniques to practise and the equipment required is comparatively cheap too. Running can be done almost anywhere and is easy to fit into your day.
Before you begin run training, the best place to start is with a good pair of shoes. As with cycling try to find a reputable shoe store familiar with competitive running and a salesperson able to best help you. If you take along an old pair of runners the wear pattern on the sole will indicate your running biomechanics and should influence your choice of shoe.
Bear in mind that most of your running will be in training, not racing, so you will want a shoe to suit your weight, mileage and biomechanics. Don't try and do all your training in a pair of feather light racing flats, your knees will soon be complaining if you do!!
Where possible try and run on soft, even surfaces. Running on hard road surfaces can lead to injury and running on cambered surfaces (like the side of the road) can also lead to imbalance problems like ITB syndrome.
Remember to add some variation to your runs, keep undulating roads and some hills in occasional runs and remember above all that in a triathlon you have to run off the bike.
The key aspects for running for the uninitiated are:
- Start with a good pair of training shoes
- Start with low volumes
- Increase volumes gradually
- Where possible try and run on soft, even surfaces
- Try to include a regular off-the-bike run in your training
You're considering buying a triathlon wetsuit. Everyone else has one and they are they generally assumed to improve your swim time, but you need a few good reasons to convince your significant other before you invest you hard earned in the latest wetsuit on the market.
First the facts: a good triathlon wetsuit will primarily do two things:
· keep you warm
· make you swim faster
How do wetsuits keep you warm?
Wetsuits are made from neoprene, a material filled with tiny bubbles of gas that provides insulation. Once you have fully submerged, a thin layer of water forms between your skin and the wetsuit. Your body heats this layer of water and the wetsuit material insulates this warm layer of water from the colder water outside the wetsuit.
In swims where the water temperature is over 21°C (70°F) it is unlikely that you will need the warmth provided by a wetsuit, and if the water temperature exceeds 24°C (75°F) then, in addition to the risk of simply overheating while using one, it becomes illegal to use a wetsuit in most major races.
How do wetsuits make you swim faster?
Wetsuits are buoyant. The tiny bubbles of gas in the neoprene material that provide insulation also give neoprene buoyancy. You can swim faster in a wetsuit because you swim higher in the water, displacing less water and reducing drag. This is obviously a major performance benefit and triathlon's governing bodies have set the limit on how thick (hence buoyant) a wetsuit can be to 5mm.
Wetsuits are slippery. Most wetsuits now have a silicon coating over the outside that makes them slipperier than our skin when in contact with water, thus reducing drag forces. This is, however, a minor performance benefit and triathlon's governing bodies have not put limits on what can be done to the outer surface of wetsuits.
How much faster?
This is a much-debated topic and several studies have been undertaken with fairly consistent outcomes. A fast swimmer can expect to be between 2-4 seconds faster per 100 meters while a weak swimmer can expect to be between 10-12 seconds faster per 100 meters (hence the general disdain for wetsuits by really fast swimmers!). The average swimmer can expect to be between 6-8 seconds faster per 100 meters hence the often-quoted "minute per kilometer" benefit attributed to wetsuits.
In addition to the primary benefits of being warmer and faster in a wetsuit, a much-overlooked secondary benefit is safety in the form of buoyancy and protection against other athletes.
The buoyancy of a wetsuit helps you swim faster but it also makes it harder to drown. This is perhaps not a major concern for seasoned athletes but certainly a consideration for weaker swimmers or those not conditioned to the longer distances covered in triathlons.
The protection against other athletes becomes quickly obvious to anyone who has been involved in the melee of a mass start and knows of the kicks and punches that can occur. A wetsuit offers protection against this type of physical contact by cushioning these blows considerably.
With all these positives surely there are some down sides? Yes there are.
A wetsuit (especially a full suit) can restrict arm movement and even breathing if it is too tight or made from thicker, less flexible neoprene. Most of the top-of-the-line wetsuits available have overcome this issue through using thinner and more elastic 'panels' in the areas of the suit required to stretch but this is still a concern with some models.
Removal time can also be an issue for some and there is certainly a argument against wearing wetsuits in sprint triathlons where the time benefit gained could be exceeded by the extra time taken to remove the suit in transition. This can be a consideration in races with swims less than 600m.
The key aspects are that a well fitted, correctly worn wetsuit will:
- Keep you warm by insulating your body from the colder water outside
- Make you swim faster by swimming higher in the water and being slipperier than your skin
- Cushion open-water physical encounters
- Possibly even stop you from drowning
Does this sound too good to be true? It's not, and is one of the biggest areas of "free" time gains in triathlon, especially for a weaker swimmer.
UNDERSTANDING RACE DISTANCES
While there are still variations in race distances, there are now standard formats that most race directors are conforming to, the following are the more common race distances you will encounter.
750m 20km 5km
Sprint distances races are often the best way to get into the sport; they are very achievable for mere mortals and a great place to start. A sprint distance race will take from around 50 minutes for the guns to 90 minutes for beginners and can be completed on a minimum of preparation.
1500m 40km 10km
Better known as the "Olympic Distance", this is the distance over which the World Cup, ITU World Championships and now also the Olympic races are competed. A standard distance race will take from around 2 hours for the pro's to 3 hours for age-groupers and can be completed comfortably on as little as 6 weeks preparation.
1900m 90km 21km
The Half Ironman race is the first long distance race in triathlon and is for many a stepping-stone to the big kahuna.........Ironman. A Half Ironman race will take from 4 to 7 hours and even with a basic fitness base should not be considered on any less than as 8 weeks preparation.
3800m 180km 42km
Once considered the realm of crazies and masochists, Ironman distance triathlon is now probably the biggest growth area in the sport. There are now over 15 official Ironman races held each year culminating in what is widely accepted as the Holy Grail for most triathletes, the race that started it all, the Hawaii Ironman.
The Ironman is a massive commitment and even the top pro's rarely compete in more than 3 races each year. Due to the incredible distance of the event, a considerable training effort is required to be adequately prepared. This can be difficult for those of us with work, study or family commitments but has not deterred the thousands for whom an Ironman finish is a lifetime dream.
An Ironman race will take from 8 to 16 hours and even with a good fitness base and a triathlon background should not even be considered on any less than 10-12 weeks specific preparation.
The key aspects of race distances for the uninitiated are:
- Sprints look easy enough on paper but still hurts
- Standard/Olympic distance, the first 'real' triathlon
- Half Ironman makes you understand why 'just finishing' is considered an achievment
- Ironman looks ludicrous now but the appeal becomes unbearable for most