Sunday, September 27, 2015

10 ways to improve your triathlon time

A beginner's guide to a faster triathlon

There's no getting away from dozens of dedicated swimming, cycling, and running sessions if you are going to perform well at a triathlon, but the gains can be slow and hard-won. If two hours of running can only give you a 10-second gain (hypothetically), how many of those tough runs do you have to do to hit your goal?

There are more efficient ways of cutting your time, that don't involve endless hours of sweat or weeks of trial and error. You still have to commit to those endless hours of sweat, but in addition, you can consider the following. Each requires minimal effort but can cut your time considerably:

1. Case the joint - Free

OK, you aren't robbing the transition area, but if you scope it out in advance (the night before for an IRONMAN or Half IRONMAN) you may be able to steal a few seconds. In particular, look for your spot, marked by your bib number and maybe your name, and walk the transition. If it's a shorter race, and you can't visit the transition area the night before, arrive early.

Your spot will be marked with your bib number
Walk to the swim area. Then, walk the route from the swim, entering the transition area. Make note of where the timing sensor is, and the direction you'll have to trot, the shortest way to your bike. Then, walk from your spot to the "Bike Out" sign, and pay attention to where the line on the ground is. That is, the line before which you cannot mount your bike.

Next, look for where the bikes come in, where you'll enter, and trace your way back to the bike. Finally, follow the most direct path to the "Run Out" sign. Memorise this. Before I go to sleep, I like to replay it in my head, making clear note of each exit and entrance.

Some people attach balloons to their bike to make their spot easy to find, but I think that's amateurish and inconsiderate (they may get tangled in other people's things.) Some people will bring a bright towel which they will notice as they run up towards their bike. In the Bintan 70.3 I placed a large leaf on the ground in front of my bike.

2. Practice the transition - Free

Well before the event, you can set up a mock transition, complete with everything you'll have in your race. Bike, helmet, sunglasses, bike shoes, race belt, running shoes, sunglasses, etc. Then practice running up to your transition, getting on the bike, cycling, getting off the bike, and doing the run.

This is a good time to learn how to push your bike from the saddle while jogging in the transition area - it shouldn't swerve or fall, but roll in the direction you push it.

3. Ditch the gloves - Free

Save time, have one less thing to carry, worry about, and deal with.

4. Use elastic race laces - $5 - $15

Don't fiddle with normal shoe strings when putting your running shoes on. Get elastic laces. I like Nathan Lock Laces.

5. Use a race belt - $10-$20

Forget about pinning your bib to your tri suit. Just string the elastic ends of the race belt through the holes in the bib and wear that for the cycle and the run. To the rear on the bike, and to the front while running.

6. Wear a tri suit - $50 - $350

Changing clothes will slow you down. Wear only one thing for all three stages. A triathlon suit will have minimal padding (don't want to swim with sponges between your legs), no sleeves, and a zipper in the front. You will feel equally at ease swimming, cycling, and running in it. Try to find one that has gel padding, not sponge. It'll last longer and absorb less water.

It might not look very fashionable...

...but you swim, cycle (and run) in the same thing.

In cooler climates, you may wear a wet suit - but here in the tropics we don't need those so I'm only commenting on what to wear in hot weather.

7. Use aero bars - $80 - $500

Aero bars clipped on to my road bike
If you're using a road bike, the most effective thing you can do to make yourself faster, especially over a 70.3 or full IRONMAN is to use aero bars. For just a hundred or two, you'll get close to the position you would be in on a tri bike, shaving minutes on a half IRONMAN.

8. Wear triathlon cycling shoes - $100 - $400

Tri bike shoes usually have only one strap (as opposed to two or three for road bike shoes), and that strap may open the opposite way road shoes do. This makes it easier to quickly pull the velcro open from the inside of your foot to the outside. They also tend to have holes in them to allow water to drain out so your wet feet can dry off before the run. Last, they may have little loops to allow you to thread a rubber band through them and connect them to your bike, while they're clipped in to the pedals.

9. Get a bike fit - $100 - $500

Personally, I believe this to be one of the best investments you can make. In fact, I'd do this before buying any bike equipment or anything of real value. A bike fit expert will ensure you're seated in the optimum position to get the most power out of your body without compromising on comfort, all the while staying aerodynamic. Do it, it's well worth the pain you won't feel in your neck!

Here I am getting my road bike better fit for tris
I did this at Loue Bicycles (Singapore). Ask for Timothy - you will thank me later.

10. Wear an aero helmet - $150 - $500

You may look like an alien, but you will also be fast(er). This is one of those things you do before dropping $3k on a new wheelset, as the time gains vs the cost are well worth it.


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