Welcome to the third and final article that will provide you with some simple tips and tricks to reduce your triathlon times whether you are competing or completing. Ways to reduce your race times in transition and through your training can be found here and here.
With the margins at the top for the elites and amateur racers in sprint and Olympic distance races, even saving only a few seconds can be vital (I personally have finished 3rd and 2nd by three and eight seconds respectively in two races in 2016!). Without further ado, here are some simple tips regarding your equipment choices to improve your triathlon times!
Trisuit and number belt – This is a really straightforward way to save time in transition. You can perform all three disciplines in a trisuit and they will be considerably quicker than having to stop to put on a cycling/running top and shorts. They are also more aerodynamic on the bike than regular cycling kit so will save some additional time during the bike leg.
A number belt (to hold your race number – obviously!) is thus essential so you aren’t sticking safety pins through your trisuit but can also be worn under your wetsuit in an open water swim (race numbers are usually on a waxy, waterproof paper) so you don’t need to worry about putting it on in transition.
Go sockless – Not putting on socks for the bike and/or run portions of a triathlon can really save time when racing (getting socks onto damp feet is never easy!) and for this reason the vast majority of competitors go without for sprint and Olympic distance races. Triathlon specific cycling shoes and race flats/triathlon running shoes generally have smooth, sock-like uppers and soles with minimal seams to reduce chafing and the chance of blisters – but make sure you have tried cycling or running without socks in training as blisters can quickly ruin a race!
If you are racing 70.3 or Ironman (middle and long distance) races, I would recommend socks for both the run and bike portions, or even high cut compression versions to reduce muscle vibrations and fatigue.
Elastic laces – These are probably the best value time saving method in triathlon – swap out your standard laces for elasticated versions to save you struggling to tie your laces when adrenaline is pumping and you are feeling the effects of the swim and bike legs. These allow you to pre-tension your running shoes before the race and pull them on easily before shooting out of transition two in no time at all.
Lube and talc – These can make race day a lot quicker and comfortable. Use specific wetsuit-friendly lubricant for the swim to reduce the likelihood of your wetsuit chafing and making it easier to pull off in transition. Putting a lubricant (such as body glide) around the heels of your cycling and running shoes will also help you slide into them easily whilst talcum powder will absorb moisture and reduce the chance of blisters.
Elastic bands – If you are attempting the flying mounts and dismounts I highlighted in the last article, utilising a couple of elastic bands to hold your bike shoes in place will be useful. You ideally need a loop on the heel of your shoes, often found specifically on triathlon cycling shoes, which you use to hold them steady and horizontal.
The bands easily snap as you pull your shoes on and start pedalling but should hold them in place as you run your bike out of transition, stopping them from annoyingly bouncing off the ground and possibly unclipping from your pedals and slowing you down. It’s also easier to perform a flying mount when your cycling shoes are held horizontally too.
Get aero – This mainly applies to cycling where your body makes up the vast majority of the resistance you are fighting against to go quicker. So closer fitting trisuits or cycling kit is much better than large, billowy sports kit.
An incredibly easy way to reduce your profile and thus the amount of drag you experience is by riding either on the hoods of your handlebars with your arms bent at ninety degrees or down in the drops (this is if you are using a standard road bike handlebar) rather than being sat up in the wind like a sail on the tops of the bars. You can improve this even further by attaching a set of clip on aero bars that will again reduce your frontal profile and provide significant speed gains.
The main thing to remember when you are trying to get aero, whether that is through clip on aero bars or really hunching down in the drops is that you don’t compromise your power output and ability to breath and run. There is no point being as aerodynamic as possible but only be able to put out half as much power as you could in a slightly less aerodynamic position or not being able to run as fast as you are able to off the bike as you have been too aggressive with your position.
Tidying up your bike and keeping the bare minimum on it will also provide some small gains in both aerodynamics and weight so removing lights, bells and any other superfluous items is worthwhile.
Nutrition – Your nutrition is something that can be easily overlooked and is important across all race distances. Probably the main tip is to try nothing new on the day before or during the race and stick to the nutrition plan you have used in training. This is because your body is used to processing the foods, gels and fluids it will be tasked with handling whilst under the pressures of racing and something different can really throw a spanner in the works.
The same goes for your race night nutrition, don’t eat everything in sight to ‘carb’ load – a reduced training load with a slightly increased calorie intake in the week or so leading up to the race will ensure that your glycogen stores are fully topped up, so overdoing it just before the race will make you feel lethargic and slow.
Spend – The last thing you can do to improve your triathlon times is to spend. Granted elastic laces, a trisuit and clip-on aerobars will cost you, but they aren’t the largest of purchases to gain ‘free speed’.
If you are really looking for further improvements though, splashing out on a time trial bike, deep section wheels and an aero helmet will minimise how much drag your cycling equipment is creating. If you have gone in for all of that, a bike fit to ensure that you are in the optimal position for power output, aerodynamics and the ability to run afterwards is also incredibly worthwhile.
Upgrading to a pair of race flats (superlight weight running shoes) can also slightly improve your race day run splits, as can buying a top of the range wetsuit that (providing it fits) will provide improved flexibility, speed through the water and can be easily removed in transition. In reality you can look to upgrade almost everything related to racing in triathlon if you have pockets deep enough to do so. However, at the end of the day it is you who is moving you closer to the finish line so there’s no point having all of the most recent, cutting-edge equipment without putting in the training.
Overall, if you are looking for the best return for your money I would recommend getting a trisuit and number belt, elastic laces and a set of clip on aerobars before any other expensive equipment purchases.
And there you have it, eight equipment and general tips to improve your triathlon times when you next race!
About the Author:
James Hodgson is a competitive triathlete, representing the Great Britain age group team at European and World Championship events. When he’s not swimming, riding his bike or out running, he can be found doing core exercises and studying for his Masters degree.